An unmistakeable “quick-three-beers!” alerted me to the presence of an Olive-sided Flycatcher in the powerline cut, my first new state and Clarke Co. bird of 2014. After a brief singing spell on the Oconee Co. side of the river (video can be seen here), the bird relocated to the upper powerline cut, and was enjoyed by many birders in the same spots favoured by last fall’s Tropical Kingbird. Needless to say I took the flycatcher’s advice that evening…
Passerine migration typically grinds to a halt in the Athens area by mid-May, so I was extremely surprised to find a singing Alder Flycatcher at Lake Herrick last weekend. Although fairly vocal, the bird was typically shy and gave brief views at the edge of a power line cut. Seemingly just the second spring eBird record of this species in the state, it did coincide with a small influx of migrant Alders elsewhere in the southeast.
I returned to Lake Herrick the next evening to check for shorebirds following a rainstorm, and was amazed to hear the whits of a Willow Flycatcher, followed shortly by a singing male Wilson’s Warbler! The following morning I had several visuals of one or two empids in the willows behind the white information hut – one with more extensive dark on the lower mandible, a complete eye-ring and relatively white wingbars that I suspect was an Alder, and another less contrasty bird with an all orange lower mandible and a broken eye-ring that I presume was the continuing willow. I’ve added a selection of photos below of the empid mini-influx, including a side-by-side comparison of a Willow Flycatcher with an Eastern Wood-Pewee (note less prominent wingbars and much longer primary projection of the latter).
I’m devoting the next post to my favourite find of the spring, but other good local birds in the dying embers of spring migration included a singing Connecticut Warbler in the same area in the lower powerline of the State Botanical Garden that they have often shown up. The weedy fields along Government Station Road have been excellent, with multiple territorial Dickcissels observed, a few lingering Bobolinks and 2+ singing Grasshopper Sparrows.
It’s been a really great week for yard birds, with the jewel in the crown being my first yard Canada Warbler, a glorious singing male who obliged by coming down to the pond. Other good birds have included rare yard records of Louisiana Waterthrush, Northern Rough-winged Swallow and Hairy Woodpecker, and a multitude of thrushes (including Veery and Gray-cheeked), Scarlet Tanagers and Cedar Waxwings attracted by a large fruiting mulberry. Lots of local breeders have already fledged too – baby Carolina Wrens, Brown Thrashers and Red-bellied Woodpecker have all been seen begging around the yard. It’s hard to get motivated to bird anywhere else!
The Morton Road Upland Sandpiper ended up staying several days, although it often seemed to mysteriously vanish during the middle of the day. I lucked into it extremely close to the road on an early morning start. A bigger surprise was the return of the NW Athens Swallow-tailed Kite. I saw the bird shortly after it had successfully predated a nestling, and it was repeatedly harried by 3 Mississippi Kites. Perhaps a pioneer of a future breeding colony? Other good birds found over the last week included a singing Wilson’s Warbler at Little Lake Herrick, a short-staying Cattle Egret on S Milledge Avenue, and a nice trio of Marsh Wren, Sedge Wren and Canada Warbler in the powerline cut at the Botanical Garden.
One of my biggest pleasures during migration is to sit in my backyard and watch migrant passerines descend from the treetops to drink and bathe in my pond. The past week has brought a good diversity of migrants through the yard, with American Redstart, Cape May and Blackpoll Warblers being the commonest. Perhaps my favourite moment was when a male Redstart started looking agitated, only for a Blackpoll to fly in right next to him. The last straw was when a second male Blackpoll arrived and chased the poor Redstart away!
Just over 10 years ago, I started this blog to document all the wonderful birds I saw after moving halfway across the world to Davis, CA. Many of the great birds I saw there were in no small part due to Marcel Holyoak, who regularly drove me all over the state in search of life birds. I was therefore thrilled to be able to show him my neck of the woods last week. We notched up a respectable 24 warbler species, and found some decent local scarcities including 2 White-crowned Sparrows at S Milledge and what turned out to be a fly-by Herring Gull at Lake Chapman.
Marcel, Jarone and I also took a fun field trip down to the Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge, braving blackflies galore to get good looks at Red-cockaded Woodpecker and Bachman’s Sparrow. Marcel and I then visited a few birding spots in Macon, picking up local breeding specialities including Painted Bunting, Baltimore Oriole, and Little Blue Heron. We stopped by the Bostwick area on the way home, picking up a nice selection of shorebirds and late-lingering ducks, plus our first of season Bobolinks.
Just after Marcel’s visit, a strong windstorm deposited the second county record of Stilt Sandpiper on Charlie Bolton Road. The next morning there was a phenomenal migration fallout, and several more great county birds were found (Golden-winged Warbler, Upland Sandpiper, and a heard-only Northern Bobwhite). Migrants in the backyard have also been outstanding, but more on that in another post…
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!