Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Carolina Patches and Unfinished Skulking

Winter and Summer visits to the coastal plain of Carolina have now become a regular part of my annual peregrinations, and apart from the major pains that come with flying out of the east coast, this has been a welcome thing. Bird-wise this opens up new state and county lists to lazily track, and a very welcome new cadre of potential life birds. Perhaps most satisfactorily, it provides regular opportunity for closer encounters with bird species that are relatively rare or even non-existent in my home state. Even with the humidity and the biting bugs, they are sweet days indeed when all of these factors coalesce. 

Purple Martin is a bird I do not yet have on my AZ list. This isn't exactly embarrassing, but it's unimpressive, a real signatory that I am not part of the inner circle nor a particularly dedicated state-lister. PUMAs are legion in North Carolina, and they are much harder to expose properly than they are to find and appreciate.

It's a crying shame that most of the eastern (and North American) PUMA population resides now in subsidized housing. Purple Martins must be encouraged to show aggression and malevolence commensurate to their size against the competitive House Sparrows and European Starlings. To move beyond their artificial housing they must become more...uncivilized.
We're all counting on your and your ilk, sub-adult PUMA. Grow into a territorial monster.

PUMAs might be better-served if they learned to construct their own nests a-la Cliff or Barn Swallows. Then they would not be competing for cavities with the aforementioned feral blight species. Barn Swallows practice such yeomanry with near-continental success. In fact they seem to have too much time on their proverbial hands, such that adolescent birds can laze around and stare vacantly off into space without the need of getting a job.

And PUMAs could perhaps learn a thing or two of aggression for their smaller, long-tailed cousins, who bare fangs, as it were, even at the mighty Helios himself.

Another Carolina staple is the Brown Thrasher. These birds are common but often skittish, so any time one gets a close and personal sight it makes for a very happy BRTH day. We're pretty spoiled for Thrashers out west and in Arizona; 6 of the 8 North American species occur in Maricopa County annually. But as much as I love Le Conte's, and as much as I make fun of the East Coast's one-Thrasher policy, I must admit that Brown Thrasher is probably the best looking one of the pack.

One can pick up PUMAs and BRTHs around the yard throughout most of Carolina. Every region has its yard birds, and those are good ones. Walking around the rural areas, just past the well-manicured property lines, one finds the woodland/farmland liminal spaces and the scrub that delineates them. These areas also have their residents, and while it requires a bit more endeavoring to get good looks at Field Sparrow or Prairie Warbler than PUMAs, the pay-off is that much sweeter. 
From my observations, PRWAs in NC are not yet adapted to using toilet paper like those in Maine. Perhaps not coincidentally, handkerchiefs are also very popular in NC.

The coastal plain also offers a higher delicacy of bird, species that can be found elsewhere in the state but almost never without substantial effort and/or blood sacrifice. Much to my chagrin when hiking in the Appalachians, Pops got looks at a Kentucky Warbler while I was distracted by a Canada, and a female at that. That KY bird should have been the one, but instead it was nothing (to me, and therefore by association the entire world), nothing at all.
As such I had to spend a much hotter, muggier, buggier time at Howell's Woods--a great birding spot to be sure--to track down KEWA, which is a leading avian proponent of facial tattoos. This bird was very shy and secretive, and also stayed up much higher than I expected. I was only thinly satisfied with the encounter, but we shall meet again.

Birds of a feather flock together don't ya know. And as I was making up for lost time and lost sleep and lost blood (mosquitos) with the KEWA, his compatriot in skulk started singing from the other side of the trail. Swainson's Warblers are probably the most uninspiring warblers from a visual standpoint, but as is the case with most of the Old-World Warblers, this bird sings better than Andrea Bocelli, and also navigates much better in a shaded wood than the afore-mentioned maestro.

Swainson's Warbler was another semi-overdue lifer, one for which the blood-price had to be paid with a seemingly interminable wait in a dismal mosquito cloud for a mediocre photo. I have no regrets, but these sightings did still leave me longing for more and better time with eastern Warbler species.