Two area Christmas Bird Counts are taking place this weekend: the Gastonia count is Saturday, and the Southern Lake Norman count is Sunday. Participants often try to go out a few days ahead of time to scout their particular areas of the count circle. Knowing if any unusual or hard-to-find birds are hunkered down in an area can influence time allotted for birding the day’s scheduled stops. Extra time may be spent looking for that toughie that was present just a few days ago. Sometimes it pays off and sometimes it doesn’t.
Last Monday I took time to scout the Davidson College cross-country trails and Ecological Preserve, an area I cover on the Southern Lake Norman Count. This nice area is always very birdy and has produced some rarities in the past.
The morning was cold and clear, perfect for getting those energetic winter feeding flocks of songbirds active and vocal. These flocks are often very inquisitive too, much to birders’ delight.
In a mixed pine-hardwood patch I stopped to make a few scolding noises designed to pull the birds in. Almost immediately a ruby-crowned kinglet started scolding and flew down within four feet of me. It was soon followed by its cousins the golden-crowned kinglets and other excited birds, all giving their own scolds right in my face. Brown-headed nuthatches, pine warblers, yellow-rumped warblers, Carolina chickadees, tufted titmice, Northern cardinals, field sparrows, chipping sparrows, white-throated sparrows, dark-eyed juncos, Eastern towhees, Eastern bluebirds, hermit thrushes, downy woodpeckers, and yellow-bellied sapsuckers made the low brush alive with their voice, dancing, and flitting. I’m guessing there was at least several dozen individuals that came in to investigate me.
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At one point a harsh, rasping scold came down from a pine, the unmistakable sound of an agitated blue-headed vireo. This was one of the species I was targeting by scouting. They are present in the winter but rare. This is a bird I’ll want to relocate Sunday.
The same scene was repeated several more times over the course of the morning; I even located another blue-headed vireo.
There are a lot of Eastern screech-owl nest boxes in the preserve. After playing owl calls at each box I was able to eventually coax an owl to poke its head out of the entrance hole. That’s another species I was targeting. I hope they will all be just as cooperative Sunday.
Taylor Piephoff is a naturalist with an interest in the birds and wildlife of the southern Piedmont: PiephoffT@aol.com.