Last Sunday I had to do something all serious birders have to do at least occasionally; look for birds in weather conditions that were at times miserable. It was the Charlotte Spring Bird Count. It has rained before on this count but usually it has been confined to late-day thunderstorms. This year the day was just an eyelash short of a total washout.
Now unsettled weather can often be a boon to birding. Migrants are forced out of the sky or held up from advancing north. Local rarities are often around in good numbers; the trick is to muster the motivation to get out to look and then draw on skill and luck to find them.
Falling rain keeps the leaves moving in the canopy, obscuring the movements of tiny treetop migrants. The sound of the water muffles the songs and chips I rely on to reveal the presence of many spring birds.
My party of three met before sunrise at Renaissance Park Golf course off Tyvola Road. We immediately set out on foot to walk the back nine in hopes of finding some goodies in the wetlands on that side of the course. An hour and a half later we were back at the clubhouse; drenched and lacking anything more than common species; 28 in all.
But then we caught a break. The sun didn’t come out but the rain let up and then stopped for an hour. That’s all we needed to get our list growing. Immediately we started finding migrant warblers; blue-winged, black and white, orange-crowned, worm-eating, Northern waterthrush, American redstart, chestnut-sided, prairie, palm, and yellow-breasted chat.
White-crowned sparrows began singing along with blue grosbeaks, orchard orioles, blue-headed and red-eyed vireos, and indigo buntings. By the time the rain started again we had increased our tally to 68 species.
Another break in the rain an hour or so later produced our best bird of the day; a sedge wren off Rea Road. We would never have found that tiny bird in even a moderate rain. Thanks to the rain respite we also checked off cedar waxwing, fish crow, and white-eyed vireo.
About three hours of rain-free birding made our entire day’s species count a nice 84 species. All in all I didn’t mind the weather inconvenience but I am looking forward to some warm, sunny birding days in the next couple of weeks.
Taylor Piephoff is a naturalist with an interest in the birds and wildlife of the southern Piedmont: PiephoffT@aol.com.