Monday, September 14, 2009

After the Deluge

Just when I think I've got things figured out here, the rules change. Shortly after moving here, I noticed that summer/autumn mornings tend to be hot and dry, and afternoons hot and rainy. One of my biologist friends told me this is because all the evaporation of the many local lakes and rivers during the morning condenses into rain clouds by afternoon—when all that moisture returns to earth in the form of rain. I've trained myself to get up at the crack of dawn for my daily run, in order to avoid the rain and heat of the afternoon.

But this weekend, things got weird. There was no rain at all on Thursday and Friday, but on Saturday, just when I really, really, wanted to go out and look for fall migrants, it rained on and off all morning. I took Glenn to Loblolly Nature Center, normally a good place during migration, and got nothing but mosquito bites and dozens of White-eyed Vireos.

Then it started to rain, and since Glenn didn't want all his photo gear to get wet, we headed back to the car.

This would have been a reasonable time to pack up and go home. But instead, we went to the Lake Wauberg entrance to Paynes Prairie State Park (I optimistically assumed the rain at Loblolly was just a local squall), where we paid $6 to get in and saw next to nothing. And got rained on again.

Saturday was shot. The drive home took us past the Bolen Bluff parking lot, empty except for a couple of familiar-looking cars. No doubt other birders braving the rain—and no doubt they were seeing boatloads of migrating wonders in there.

On Sunday morning, I woke up early to the sound of rain pounding on the roof. Great. By nine or so, it seemed to have passed, so we headed down to Bolen Bluff. It's an odd place--whenever we go, some areas are nearly silent, while others filled with the squawks and chirps of feeding flocks on the move. And the quiet and active spots are different every time.

Feeding flock #1 was in a shady, swampy, palmetto-filled area usually devoid of interesting birds. But on Sunday morning, it was noisy with calling Ovenbirds and singing Yellow Warblers, along with various more prosaic hangers-on. But all were too fast, and too deep in the brush, for any photos. Our consolation for missing good shots of the warblers was a sighting of a bright male Summer Tanager, perched fairly low on a branch hanging across the trail in front of us:

Feeding flock #2 was a crazy combination of everything: White-eyed Vireos, Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, and Downy Woodpeckers were all feeding together, albeit peevishly—I know one shouldn't anthopomorphize animals, but their sharp warning calls whenever anyone else got close definitely suggested they didn't welcome each other's company. In this flock of residents were a large number of Northern Parulas, a couple of Yellow-throated Warblers, and a couple of Black-and-white warblers.

As we were heading back to the trailhead, we ran into one of the local birding hotshots, who told us he had seen a Blackburnian Warbler there the day before (aha! So his was one of the vaguely familiar cars in the lot!), and had a female/immature Chestnut-sided Warbler that morning. Both of which, (naturally) we missed. Later, I found out from the grapevine that this guy had seen 12 warblers on the morning we saw him! And he was, characteristically, too polite to brag about this in our presence. Because we suck as birders and there was really no need for him to rub it in.

Well, at least we got this guy.


dAwN said...

hee hee..nice squirrel pic!
Too bad u missed the warblers..better luck next time!

Felicia said...

Thanks! I guess if there weren't not-so-good birding days, the really good ones wouldn't mean as much!