Wednesday, February 27, 2019

5MR Month II: February Schmebruary

Several weeks ago I had an interesting exchange with a long-haul grain trucker. I was helping him unload fifty thousand pounds of wheat middlings out of a dump trailer in the rain (sucks), and inevitably we shot the breeze while working. He was a big guy, surly looking with only 3 or 4 of organic teeth left in his head after 40 years of dip, but still nice enough. As one does with itinerant strangers, we talked of traffic, local flavor, and, of course, the weather. 
'Chilly and often rainy' pretty much sums up winters here in east NC, not the worst if not the best seasonal dichotomy. It was here that the fellow threw me a curveball, stating matter-of-factly, "Yeah, it's been a weird winter...'course the government is controlling the weather you know."
This fellow was a chem-trailer.

Rain, wind or snow...Chipping Sparrows seem impervious to it all, much like mailmen

We've probably all been in this situation before, when somebody shatters the conventional window of discourse and in an awkward flash you have to recalibrate: Did they say that on purpose? Do they think I will be a sympathetic audience? Did they say it half seriously and are gauging reaction before commiting? How much longer am I stuck here? Is The Thing actually destroyed at the end of the movie, or has it just absorbed and transmogrified into Kurt Russell?

It's hard to unravel the 'how' and 'why' of something like ChemTrails (or The Thing). If the government is controlling the weather, why is it making the weather bad? Grange Man said it was to hurt farmers. Why? He wasn't sure about that part. Is it to increase support for environmental legislation that will increase federal powers? So Monsanto can eventually monopolize weather-proof seed production? Maybe the most practical question should be, "Do you really think that our government could orchestrate and execute something of this scale, in plain sight, without verified whistleblowers, when it spends 1 or 2 months each year straight-up shut down from budget gridlock?"

Creating artificial clouds or'd be awful hard to keep so many in the dark.

Why bring all of this up now? What has this got to do with bird-blogging?
Because despite all my dismissal, all the evidence and common sense to the contrary...I dunno, maybe the Grain Truck Philosopher was onto something. How else does one explain seven SIX weekends in a row of steady rain and wind??? The Government (Deep State) doesn't want me to win 5MR is why.

Look at this nonsense. So foggy it looks like an impressionist painting.

After a birdy January surpassing expectations, February has been a kick in the binoculars. I guess the universe abhors a vacuum--or maybe that's Big Gov. too. To be fair, I did get one day in February when it was only overcast and not rainy, and the birding was good. Very good.
The birds were eager to be birded, I was happy to oblige. This February wrap up shall be almost exclusively about that day.

Here is pleasant image of pines and vines almost ruined buy a coincidental YB Blurry-headed Vireo.

There have still been some ticks here and there, mostly from incidental driving, but it seems like for the season most of my little 5MR patches have peaked. However, the one where I saw the most potential for spring and summer has continued to grow and now surpassed the others in its own winter right. It helps that I pass through some farmland on the way and have picked up birds like Merlin, Harrier, Am. Pipit that I wouldn't otherwise know where or how to chase; you just happen upon them with time and luck.
The grassy tangles along the Bear Creek are great for sparrows, and the open woods have great promise for breeding passerines, maybe even Bobwhite or Woodcock. I dream of Woodcock. And in the jumbled mess of vines and younger growth between, there's usually something good hiding.

The first Black-and-White Warbler, fresh of its shift at The Footlocker was not just a 5MR bird, but also a county and even --eek-- a State bird. Another score for birding local. This is the only 5MR site where I've been enveloped in a good mixed flock. And in case you have not yet experienced this orgy of ornithological euphoria, being engulfed in the teeming swarm of a feeding mixed flock is one of birding's greatest and most important experiences. The BWWA was joined by both Kinglets, the Chickadee/Titmouse Hivemind complex, Downies & Redbellies, Pine Warblers, Jays, Cards, Towhees, and the Vireo. Eyes on the prize though.

And then there was another. And another. After seeing no Black-and-whites in Carolina before, I had 4 in about 2 hours. I also have not seen any since. I highly recommend watching these birds do their thing; the energetic foraging and beeping with their crisp black and white against all the ecru colors of lower canopy is, how you say, C'est Magnifique!? Plus it's A Warbler in Winter--much better than a lion.

Something I did not really consider until reviewing my 5MR species found vs. missing and expected (a steamy Saturday night, lemme tell ya), is how few woodpeckers are migratory. There is the Sapsucker group (4), then Red-headed and Lewis's. Some ranges expand or contract a bit with the seasons, but none of the picoides and only those two melanerpes migrate. I assume the Sapsuckers move because their diet and habits require warmer temps, whereas the larger genuses are more flexible with their diets. But what about those outliers then? 
Anyway, this all came up because I am waiting on Red-headed Woodpecker to complete my 5MR Woodpeckering. My first few visits to Bear Creek yielded little by way of the timber splitters, but now 3-4 species are reliable, and notably with PIWOs. 

Most conversations that transpire without mentioning and contemplating PIWOs are conversations wasted. Opportunities lost. Things that should be better done.
Part of their allure is the retiring humility juxtaposed with the striking plumage, size, and grace of these birds. Theirs is not a desire for the limelight. My NC experiences with Red-shouldered Hawks are quite the opposite.

Their conspicuous perching and "help I'm being softly murdered!" calls quickly establish presence here the coastal plain around all the woods and swamps, around neighborhoods and parks, in harvested fields and one time at the Dollar General. They are very good-looking, so this behavior is permissible. They're like the Kardashians I guess.

March will be interesting. I still have not solved my waterbird dilemma and am missing the likes of Wigeon and Coot-COOT-for crying out loud. But maybe when other birds start moving up from farther south, my little retention ponds will catch something cool. Until then, mostly just hoping to have a flock of Rusty Blackbirds crash into my window (but be ok). 


  1. I enjoyed this post Laurence! Lots of fun info and humor-a classic Butler's Birds post. There's a fun set of birds in NC and I look forward to seeing what you find in your 5MR as the year progresses!

    1. Thanks Tommy. Maybe I’ll track down the elusive American Coot. If only there were more golf courses!

  2. February has been brutal--for everyone I think. We've had six days of school called off this month for weather. Bird reports are nil. Cabin fever is setting in. It's bad, man. The government must be conspiring against all of us birders. Good thing we have your humorous post to brighten things up a bit, Laurence. Hopefully the government won't shut that down.

    Cheers to (hopefully) better weather and new 5 MR birds in March! Maybe you'll bump into new characters too, perhaps a Flat Earther?

    1. Cheers Josh. Six days of school!? West. I really should stop whining. FEPO in Feb. is good coping strategy.

      I haven’t had a Gov. summons yet (for blogging), but probably it’s just delayed because of the shutdown.

  3. ChemTrailers are weird. I had no idea you were a long haul trucker unloader, learn something every day, Come April you will be killing it.

    1. That’s just my second hobby after birding ; )
      It’s what you do after with your 50K pounds of grain products that counts.

  4. I just picked up coot this week, my second most recent 5MR bird. I'll see how far I can fling it for ya.

    Glad I'm not the only one who relishes being inside a mixed flock.

    1. Oh yeah, my boyfriend just went on a Boy Scouts overnight with his son and was chatting with one of the leaders. She was talking about some land she just bought near the Canada border which sounded cool, then it turned out to be for the sole purpose of doomsday prepping.

    2. be fair that does seem to be in keeping with the Boy Scout motto.

    3. And yes. Never until 5MR have I yearned for Coot so badly. What the hell!?
      I feel like a junky, albeit one with less carbon footprint.

  5. I thought I posted a comment but I guess it didn't take. Rest assured I addressed middling wheat and wheat middlings.

    I too have been victim of much shitty weekend weather this year. That pattern will continue tomorrow. Then, when the storms stop, I will probably be rendered catatonic by spring allergies. Pain.

    1. Too bad. I would love to hear your thoughts on wheat middlings as well as middling wheat. Personally I’m a fan... from a distance.

      Is bourbon a decent allergy shield or just sweet consolation?
      Are you close enough to the coast to get storm birds blown your way?

  6. That Black-and-White Warbler is gorgeous!

    And you've done much better than me in February - I only added one 5MR year bird and haven't been out too much. I can't really blame the weather either, except I guess that some days would have been too hot!

    Anyway hope the government switches on the warmer, less-rainy weather for you soon!

  7. Thanks Emma. I was wondering how our Gov. meddling was affecting you all down under.
    May the Night Parrots make their way to you soon.

  8. Great photography. I'm currently stalking a blue heron whom I've dubbed "The Fisherman."

    1. And so the stalker becomes the stalked...
      Good luck!