An epic rainstorm in the first week of April downed 2 new bird species for Lake Herrick – Laughing Gulls and a drake Green-winged Teal (both found by James Neves). Pollen was also raining down from the water oaks in my yard, although this didn’t appear to bother the Cedar Waxwings. Migrants continued to pour in, with Hooded and Yellow-throated Warblers both putting on a show along the river trails of the botanical garden (along with a fine pair of Wood Ducks). The cool weather on the Audubon walk at Sandy Creek Nature Center didn’t put off the birds, and we saw our first Green Herons and Scarlet Tanager, along with a showy Hermit Thrush and a raccoon eyeballing a Canada Goose nest from the treetops.
The end of March brought a mixed bag of lingering winterers and returning warblers and shorebirds. Krista’s wintering Rufous Hummingbird has now gained a good deal of colour, and has been joined by a male Ruby-throated. A Lesser Yellowlegs was a surprise find on the beach at Lake Chapman, as was a moulting Horned Grebe feeding close to the shoreline. A jaunt down to Apalachee Road pond after a rainstorm yielded 2 American Golden Plovers giving instructive flight views. An unexpected highlight was finally seeing an Eastern Screech-Owl in Clarke Co., the first I have seen in about 10 years!
Cold mornings at the end of March usually make for productive swallow-watching at our local water bodies. A flock of up to 400 Tree Swallows descended on Lake Chapman, hosting smaller numbers of the regular swallows along with our first of season Cliff Swallows. Watching them take off en masse and glide back to their roosting tree was quite the spectacle.
Athens is lucky to have good numbers of wintering and migrant Rusty Blackbirds, and so finding them for the Rusty Blackbird blitz isn’t too challenging. Given the decent amount of rainfall this winter, large flocks have been feeding out in the open on playing fields at Sandy Creek Park and Lake Herrick, often allowing for close approach in a car. Here’s a selection of photos showing the variety of plumages seen at this time of year. I’m always impressed by how angry they look!
Last month, Clark and Krista and I decided to replace the rusted wires supporting the Sandy Creek Park Purple Martin nests. Needless to say, what started out as a simple-looking project turned into a whole day of head-scratching and multiple trips to two hardware stores, but we were pleased with the end result. Yesterday 3 martins were back at the gourds and seemed to find their new accommodation acceptable.
I managed to squeeze in a little local birding towards the end of February, starting with the continuing Greater White-fronted Goose at Astondale Road pond, and the long-staying Greater Scaup pair at Lake Chapman. A Brown-headed Nuthatch pair showed some interest in my front yard nestbox, but seem to have thought better of it. Before globe-trotting birder Simon returned to the UK, he got up close and personal with a Wood Duck which had collided with a power line in the State Botanical Garden. At month end, newbie birder David and I lucked into a Merlin devouring a Savannah Sparrow on Morton Road, and then found the continuing Vesper and Grasshopper Sparrows at the N Oconee sparrow field. My last long-haul trip for the foreseeable future was a long weekend(!) in England to meet my newborn niece. I managed a couple of hours’ birding with my oldest birding friend Neil, with a cooperative Little Owl, and great looks at Eurasian Wigeon and Teal, being the highlights.
A recent visit to New Orleans to collaborate with birding buddy Caz allowed me to revisit Audubon Park. In a previous visit in late March I had been impressed by the close views of dozens of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, but I was completely unprepared for the spectacle (and cacophony) of thousands of them, lining almost the entire shoreline 3 rows deep. Attracted by easy pickings at a nearby grain silo, ever-increasing numbers are gathering each winter to roost on the lake, and best of all, they draw in the occasional Fulvous Whistling-Duck, a species I hadn’t seen for several years (we saw 3 in one morning). Additionally, you can get really great views of other waterfowl that become accustomed to throngs of people. I had eye-popping views of Wood Ducks, Blue-winged Teal and Anhingas, while the nearby golf course ponds held Northern Shoveler, Lesser Scaup, Gadwall and Ruddy Ducks. I would recommend going to see the whistling-duck spectacle soon, as it is possible that the ever-increasing numbers of these birds (and associated poop) may eventually become regarded as pests.
Our base for the wedding was the resort town of Princeville, conveniently situated for birding the Hanalei NWR for superb views of the endemic Moorhen, Coot, Stilt and Koloa (Hawaiian Duck), and the seabird colonies at Kilauea Lighthouse. Even though my visit was a little too early for peak seabird season, the eye-level views of Laysan Albatross, Great Frigatebird, Red-footed Booby and White-tailed Tropicbird were so great that I came back for second helpings. I was pretty shocked to see a Snow Goose fly in with a pair of Nenes, but apparently this individual is known to winter in the area. Princeville itself offers a chance for good views of Laysan Albatross in the vicinity of the golf course, plus amazing, up-close views of Pacific Golden-Plovers foraging on almost every front lawn.
I spent the last week on Kauai for the wedding of dear friends Becky and Brett, but before the wedding party arrived I spent a day hiking in the beautiful (but soggy!) Alaka’i Swamp with guide David Kuhn. This high elevation bog and surrounding streams are the last stronghold of Kauai’s endemic passerines, but overall the bird activity and song seemed much lower than the native forest preserves of the Big Island and Maui. Thanks to David’s keen ears we did very well, running into 5 of the 6 endemics, with only the declining Akikiki eluding us. The highlight was getting great views of the Puaiohi or Small Kauai Thrush, perhaps the rarest of the endemic passerines, and pretty exhilarating to see after a tough hike along a slippery stream. We also got to watch an Akeke’e feeding for an extended period.
Waimea Canyon itself was stunning, and though the only native birds I saw here were the occasional soaring White-tailed Tropicbirds, driving all the way to the end of the paved road to the Na’pali coast overlooks was well worth it for the vista, and eye-level views of feeding Apapanes. To get to the beautiful Polihale beach required a long drive up a muddy and partially-flooded dirt road, but offered a good spot for watching breaching humpbacks and Brown Boobies gliding along the surf, as well as more White-tailed Tropicbirds along the cliffs.
I had the shortest amount of time (2 full days) on Maui, but thoroughly enjoyed the great vistas from Haleakala crater, amazing views of Humpback Whales from shore and watching the warbler-like Alauahios and I’iwis around Hosmer Grove picnic area on my first day. On day two I had an unfortgettable hike into Waikamoi TNC preserve, thanks to my friend Chris who works on the forest bird recovery project. We were incredibly lucky with Maui Parrotbill, and enjoyed great views of a pair almost immediately on entering the native forest (we didn’t encounter them again over the next 6 hours), and saw multiple Akohekohe (the fanciest of the honeycreepers) too.