Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Local, Organic, non-GMO: Birding

Ah, to be young and unencumbered again...those halcyon days when I could go birding any day of the week and crank out 160+ blogposts a year. Of course, being poor and de-facto celibate wasn't great during all the non-birding time (not that Butler's Birds is rolling in dough now--still waiting for the big Bird Blog corporate sponsorships to come through...err hem...Swarovski...), but it did have its appeals, not a perpetual weekend so much as a perpetual casual Hawaiian-shirt-and-jeans Friday.
I reminisce now, with a 45+ hour-a-week job and a full-blown toddler, another on the way. These are all things for which I am grateful. These are all things that make the birding pastime a bit complicated, and bring in to sharpest relief the appeals and the necessities of patch birding. They say necessity is the mother of invention. Case in point: scarce insects in winter necessitate normally insectivorous birds feeding on the ground like Towhees.  

When it comes to birding and balancing other obligations, necessity is also the mother of appreciation. Over the Holidays I followed other's exciting starts to 2019's 5MR Challenge while visiting family back in Arizona, unable to kickstart my own local birding but increasingly jazzed about doing so. It also kept me engaged in Phoenix, just around the neighborhood, to get the most out of what was there. I walked the dog; I walked the toddlers: I walked the grandparents; I walked the great grandparents; I feigned indigestion and walked myself. (Ok...I feigned nothing). I birded light, and without much depth or promise but I birded often. Hummingbirds stay busy in the same bailiwick and they seem pretty laid back, right? Right??

I also managed to get out proper for a few hours one morning and hit up an old haunt with Pops. At the Riparian Preserve in Gilbert we logged 67 species by 10:30am. This is not to brag about anything--for one that's a usual day and, for two, bragging about bird numbers is pretty lame. It is to--only for a moment--bemoan that in my 5MR I'm at 53 species, total, for the year.
Highlights were finding Fox Sparrow and Cedar Waxwings at the site, which are uncommon in the valley, and of course reminding myself how Good it is to be out doing dedicated bird-sleuthing on a crisp morning.

But the most satisfying experience from this here-and-there birding (How's that for a blog name: Here and There Birding?) was actually a neighborhood find of my Dad's. 

There's been an Acorn Woodpecker wintering a few houses down, in some out-of-the-way royal palms where there is ample storage space. In case you're wondering yes, I did walk backyards 130 yards down the street while maintaining steady eye contact (couldn't risk a Gila running it off and exchanging places, obvi) so as to claim this bird, officially and legitimately, from the yard list. 

I wouldn't think of royal palms as being any sort of vagrant/migrant trap, but another traditionally northern woodpecker from years before would says otherwise. They have their, err hem, niche.

At any rate, hopes springs eternal and I am now back in action in Wayne, NC, leaving no stone unturned in a quest to post the biggest, best, baddest 5MR I can --and also, most of all, enjoy regular birding. 

P.S. Leaving all stones overturned, has, thus far, a 0% correlation to finding birds.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Coming 'Round Again: The Birding Boomerang

Hello again, internet world. We have been apart for some time. During this separation you have grown larger and more powerful, have gained yet more speed and information, have dug your kraken tendrils yet deeper into the world. I have grown larger too, especially over these Holidays. 
I have also made resolutions. So prepare internet, internet readers and friends, poor internet saps who end up here when you're looking for naughty pictures and get misdirected by the crappy word-play links on this website (err hem -- I can see the google searches that brought you here), for you are about to grow with bird-blogging again!

The trail last went cold in August, after a family trip to the beach and an ensuing tsunami of work. You look for the tide going out, but sometimes it catches you coming in. And you just stand there with a blank look on your face.

Naturally, one should take advantage of the low tide, and see everything one can, like skittish Seaside Sparrows.

But it is even more important that one still find good stuff when the tide comes in. That's what happy people tend to do. That's what Herring Gulls do. And look at how happy and successful they are. 

Even with a summer molt going on

Even if there is adversity

2019 will probably bring the fewest opportunities and the least flexibility for birding trips, but nonetheless I hope to make much more of what is around, to share it with other birders, bloggers, and with friends and family.

At least, that's the plan until June, when these guys will be swinging by the Castille Butler again.

There's more coming soon. And if you haven't gotten caught up in the latest and best birding craze out there, you better bet up to speed and out with your bins!

Monday, July 23, 2018

On The Virtues of Boardwalks and The Parula Who Couldn't Be Bothered

It is good to have a home away from home. Who doesn't want to have more homes? A diversity of domiciles? A collection of camps? A bricolage of bases? In this day and age, with Air BnB and relatively cheap travel, Cabin Fever is a preventable disease.
Team Butler's Birds recenty spent a weekend at Chocowinity Bay, where the Pamlico River and its tributaries are leave their offerings to the broken beginnings of the Atlantic. 

The small and tidy Goose Creek State Park is a nifty nearby hotspot, where you can find quarantined graveyards for victims of early 1800s Yellow Fever, pay-phones in the woods, and pretty good birds. It should be said that I have never seen any Geese at this creek, however a Carolina Wren does live in the entrance signage. 

GCSP is established as having good birding, and I feel it has the potential/unconfirmed actual of great birding, but I have not yet unlocked it. The site has coastal broadleaf and pine woods, brackish shorelines and inlets, cypress swamps, a little bit of open pasture, and parking lots (nothing pads a trip list better than the Starling/House + Chipping Sparrow/Pigeon/Grackle combo).

Ovenbird is one of the reliable species at GCSP. Fond of woodlands with decent undergrowth, they're vocal and visible around every trailhead it seems.

The brackish coastal portion of the park provides the greatest sense of potential, but also disappointment so far. It seems like a great spot for Rails and Sparrows, but other than an occasional fly-by Tern I have not had any birds of note in this area. 

Partially I blame circumstances; it is the farthest corner of the park and the park doesn't open until 8am (!!!), so I'm not flogging the bushes until 8:30am, but I still can't shake the sense I am doing something wrong with this opportunity. Birders...know the feeling? 

Did you know Purple Martins will repurpose old Osprey nests? You didn't? Me either. Because they don't. They're just perched nearby. Don't jump to conclusions.

Every time I have visited the GCSP I have hustled, even bustled, to the corner of brackish inlets, like a child running downstair at Christmas, eager and excited. Like the same child whose parents pawned their respective hair and watch-bands to buy each other gifts and forgot about me entirely, I am continually disappointed and left without. However it's a quick rebound, because GCSP also provides a constant of satisfaction with its boardwalk. 

During the most recent visit, looking for my customary recovery after my customary disappointment, the boardwalk was particularly good, no Magee Marsh or Anahuac, but excellent to scale. Even without birds, the herps are great and it is surprisingly not buggy, actually less so than the woods.

A buzzy NOPA was yelling into the void right at the start where the lichenous boardwalk runs aground. Parulas are typically gregarious, but after checking me out for a minute, perhaps staring into my bird-lusting soul and sensing the emptiness, things got beyond cozy. 

This NOPA had no filters, no scruples, and no sense of personal space. It became my favorite ever individual NOPA. May the gods have mercy on my soul for the crushing I did to it this day.


Portions of the boardwalk are closely hedged in with thick scrub, while others are shaded over with towering mossy oaks and cypress. In between are openings where storms raged through and snapped everything off at a certain height, leaving many convenient pedestals for swampy birds one might expect. 
Green Herons here are very sensitive, and will flush from their conspicuous perches, loudly and with great complaining, no matter how careful one is. Green Heron in NC is a bird of righteous indignation. I am still used to pond-loving Green Herons in Phoenix, which were largely inured to people and highly crushable. 

Bluebirds and Cardinals also enjoy the open perches, and apparently disregard any notions of compartmentalized aesthetics. They seemed out of place.
For shame generic passerines, you are not of the swamps, but of the yards, lawns, and fences.


Possessing both strong aesthetics and habitat integrity, the Prothonotary Warbler is boardwalk perfection.

There was a family group of 3 birds foraging back and forth across swamp. Too good. The GCSP boardwalk is the best place I know of for crushing Proths, and by extension it is the best place for crushing Proths that are crushing moths...or dragonflies, etc.

I was also treated to the thick and resonant percussion of a Pileated trifecta. Upon hearing the unmistakably drumming I waited with uncharacteristic patience until they worked their way closer to the boardwalk. Large, powerful, transitionally ornithischian...Pileated Woodpeckers have a powerful impact on trees and people alike. 

I know PIWOs inhabited/inhabit areas that Ivory-billed could not, as well as similar old swamp. It's still curious to me that Ivory-bills are all but gone entirely and Pileated are doing decently well. Is that because most swamplands now are the result of preservation since the 1960s, after it was too late for IBWOs? Did IBWOs have other reproductive difficulties? Why didn't Teddy Roosevelt save them?

With crushy Warblers, big Woodpeckers, a snapping turtle, anoles, and other goodies, the boardwalk at GCSP is it's own micro hotspot. With the exception of a few migrants, the expected species here is pretty set and limited, but until I can get the skills and strategy up to par for other habitats of potential, it's Boardwalk 4 Tha Win.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

North Carolina Chronicles: Settling In and Getting Out

Butler's Birds is now broadcasting definitively from Wayne County, North Carolina. After a much needed and much relished pause in the mountains, the last several weeks have been all about getting up and running at work and up and filing lost or damaged claims with the moving company (seriously, the worst). 
On the bright side, we have a proper yard now, which can start generating a proper yard list. Other than some fervent lawn mowing and ferocious weed-whacking, I have not been able to tend it and make it more birdacious, but all the same there have been a few good pulls.  

Between the generic sounding name and their generic use on logos, Blue Jays have little aura about them. To be fair, they are a quotidian yard bird as well, but they're still gorgeous and not often crushable, in my prior experiences.

The best yard bird(s) so far came under odd circumstances, with 3 Mississippi Kites waiting out a heavy morning shower in the large dead pine across the street. My understanding is that any bird seen from one's yard is still countable. Luckily these birds also flew directly through our airspace when departing, so, double good.


As well as the incidental yard birds, we've had some cool moths and 'phibs. The first one below, a Cecrophia Silk Moth I believe, was on its last legs. The Luna Moth, like all Luna Moths, was actually an extraterrestrial. The Fowler's Toad (?) lives by our garden hose. Most evenings I watch it hunt with great success.


The main mission for local birding, other than upping the rookie county numbers, is to photograph Barred Owl well. True to form, last time I saw one at Cliffs of the Neuse it was flushed and didn't stick around. So too this time. Fortunately there were still vocal Prothonotaries around then, as now, to console and to covet.