Thursday, August 14, 2014

Carolina Birding: Fun in the Sun and Green Glorious Mountains

Greeting Birders, Non-birders, and B.I.nocular-curious Bros who are sneakily reading here but if caught by your roommate Bradley would claim it's only because you were googling 'Boobies" and 'Breeding Great Tits' and not because you're a closet bird nerd. 
I have done woefully little birding in the last few weeks, what with school getting back in session and Butler's Birds taking the backseat to having a job and other considerations (bird blogging is predominantly a financial burden). But migrants will be coming south soon and we're lurching to another exciting time of year. Without more Arizona material though, it's back east we go.

After the Great Texas Birding Adventure it would have been such a fizzle-out, such a quiet goodnight, to merely head back to Phoenix and enter a state of torpor for the rest of the summer. The Texas trip was tremendously birdy and successful by my less-than-expert standards, but it was also pretty exhausting, perhaps by anyone's standards. Sometimes one has to vacation from a vacation, and in that pursuit I went to spend time in the Piedmont region of North Carolina. Of course, one doesn't go to Carolina and visit neither the coast nor the mountains. In fact, I was fortunate to see both. 
The gorgeous ranges to the west promised plenty of resident lifers, beautiful birds I could see, or not, on leisurely hikes through alpine meadows and semi-rainforest, quite the contrast to the time-budget, smash-and-grab (careful around Endangered Species) birding in Texas. 

: :: ack. swoon :: :

But first, a little demonstration of uncommonly seen bird behavior: sunning. North Carolina is fraught with Eastern Wood-Pewees. These are way better than Western Wood-Pewees because they vocalize loudly and humorously, while also being generally more accommodating. 
One such EAWP was getting the ol' preening gland fired up for some vitamin D-fueled, anti-parasitic hygiene. Or, according to some, this bird was playing dead as part of an elaborate reuse to lure in morbidly curious prey like House Finches, a demonstration of predatory thanatosis otherwise known to occur predominantly in species of ciclid fish...

(No finches, or even flies, came to investigate the carcass)

Can you imagine if we regulated our hygiene this way, sticking our faces into an oily gland (it'd have to be the armpit) and then a rubbin' it all over our bodies? Actually...I take it back. That sounds nice.

"Yeah! Fresh!! Deodorant is for chumps!"

One of the first spots I visited for recreational hiking was Clingman's Dome, named of course after Sir Reginald B. Clingman, who was well noted for the size of his kopf. The Dome features a 1/2 mile walk up a busy paved path that takes one to a lookout near the Carolina/Tennessee border, a pulchritudinous and panoramic view to be sure. Even better, the Dome trail intersects with a 1 mile stretch of the Great Appalachian Trail, the really big one some people take from Georgia or wherever up to Maine. Following this wilder trail I could hobble my ol' bones into the thick forest that carpets the Great Smokies. I felt like the Last of the Mohicans--except less agile and with a camera--exploring the dense woods. Of course where there's vegetation and water, and even some cooler temps, there are birds.
And darn it all, if I must come out of vacation to do scrutinize them, then so be it. The Eastern Towhee mirrors its western cousin well with its ever present pillaging and calling from the understory, a credit to whatever the hell a towhee actually is (it's a pneumonic name, for their calls?).

It's not often I get to sample flavors of non Oregon-race Dark-eyed Junco. In fact, Baskin Robbins doesn't even carry it anymore. Slate-colored is probably the most common, or at least the most widespread in North America, but it's still a change for a Phoenician. Turns out immature DEJUs look like an emo subspecies of Pine Siskin. Maybe we all are a little Emo Siskin in our immature, angsty days. Shoot, if the corners of my mouth were yellow and droopy too I'd be a party defecator (actually this guy was pretty chipper).

Where the trail was thick and overgrown the sounds seemed as muffled as the light, and this added to a very primordial feel in these old mountains. But where there were openings the light and sound reverberated (ok, light doesn't reverberate, leave me alone). The excitement of hearing a new bird call is  a recognized and yet still under-appreciated buzz. Several new calls still belonged to birds I had seen before, though not recently, but some were new entirely. One such squeaky serenade belonged to the Chestnut-sided Warbler, a much wanted and long waited Warbler species predominantly of the east. This bird's cheery song was a new one, but one with which I quickly became familiar.

The first couple of birds I picked out were distant and backlit with the overcast weather, but this warbler, even being somewhat mildly colored compared to its cousins, is still done justice with the saturated colors. Pretty but professional...this is a Warbler you can take home to your parents!

I'm trying to talk about this all cool, like it was no big thing, but truth be told I was fairly beside myself. Wood Warblers are not a group we see much of in Arizona. These colors and these songs are a rare thing indeed in the southwest. The vagrants we pick up are usually young or in bad shape, so I had long been yearning for some real, East Coast Warbler exposure. The more I stared, the more I ogled and frothed at the mouth, the more I muttered expletives and incomprehensibles, the more the intricacies  of this bird affected me. Close up Warbler require medication soon afterwards.    

It was cathartic. I was finally in the beautiful green country, the overgrown, rolling mountains with Warblers buzzing around, and I was comfortable. There was no sweat nor were there thorns, just soft and lovely nature stuff in which I had all day to wallow. I didn't realize, until that moment, how much I had really been yearning for the experience. I don't precisely recall, but I'm pretty the entirety of my being melted into a large, pulpy puddle. Fortunately, I was on a decline and the puddle must have seeped downhill. I regained consciousness near the car, and quickly made plans to get back up into the mountains the next day.