Thanksgiving Weekend Birding at Bond Lake
Since getting a decent camera this summer, I’ve gone birding at a number of places in the Triangle area of North Carolina…certainly not ALL of them. So far I’ve been to Crabtree Lake, Umstead Park, Durant Nature Preserve, Bond Lake, and Mason Farm Biological Reserve. Perhaps one of the most well-known is UNC’s Mason Farm Biological Reserve; however, I have had limited success there. There have been a few times that I have been there that it has been extremely quiet. Other times, I have found it difficult to find birds in anything resembling an open view. Mason Farm is flat, with dense trees and even denser brushy fields. It hasn’t been the most optimal place for someone who isn’t the quickest bird spotter.
I do have other places that I have not visited yet – such as Jordan Lake – and places like Durant, that I’ve only visited once. Anyone who goes birding knows that you can see a lot one day and the next day see practically nothing in the same exact place. Darn those birds – they just do what they want! 🙂 There are supposed to be a number of owls at Durant but the only owl I saw was one posted on a yellow “Owl Crossing” sign.
I love seeing and taking photos of all sorts of birds. But one of the things I had really hoped for when I got a camera was to be able to take pictures of some raptors. Well, it turned out that while there are plenty of raptors soaring overhead, coming across one that would agree to be photographed was a different story. I’ve not had the luck, equipment, or speed to take any great pictures of birds in flight. The closest I came to this was one time at Mason Farm when a Red-tailed Hawk flew screeching across the sky into plot of trees. I didn’t get a good photo; however – as a side note – a cacophony of very upset crows exploded from the vicinity where the hawk had landed.
When Thanksgiving weekend approached this year, the only birding option on my mind was Bond Lake. Work had been brutally exhausting mentally, on top of the standard barrage of uniquely depressive qualities that only the holidays can deliver. Bond Lake is five minutes from my apartment and I have actually seen more birds there than anywhere else I’ve been. Sold.
I arrived at Bond Park early on Thanksgiving Day and had barely gotten out of my car before I realized that the parking lot area had more than its usual “quota” of birds. Within an hour I had photographed a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, a Red-bellied Woodpecker, a Northern Flicker, a Pine Warbler, and probably a few others whom I’ve forgotten. Sometimes the pictures are blurry, like my mind! There are also some feeders near the parking lot area. Of course I saw the “usual” birds visiting, like the Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, White-breasted Nuthatches, Downy Woodpeckers, Goldfinches, House Finches, etc. All beautiful, and I got to see my first Brown-headed Nuthatches as well!
As I stood by the edge of the parking lot trying to get a photo of another woodpecker, an older gentleman stopped his car and said, “Excuse me. Have you seen the hawks around here yet?” I replied, “No, but I would love to. I’m not that good at spotting them.” He said, “Well, there’s a hawk in a tree by the athletic field.” Then he told me about a few other places that he had seen hawks recently. What a nice man! And – I couldn’t help but notice that Miss-I-Don’t-Like-Talking-To-People-So-I’m-Going-To-Bird-Alone had to have help from another human being to find her first hawk. Hmmm. After we wished each other a Happy Thanksgiving, the man left and I hurried over to the athletic field. Sure enough, there was a Red-shouldered Hawk looking gorgeous in a very tall tree. She (I am calling her “she” because of what happened two days later) stuck around and let me get a few shots of her and then she flew off into some other trees. And that is how my first raptor photo turned out to be a Thanksgiving hawk, courtesy of a kind PERSON!
I never got that far from the parking lot that day. Almost as soon as I got onto the Lake Trail, I spotted a Great Blue Heron. Now, the Great Blue Herons at Bond Park have become a bit of an adversarial joke for me. Despite seeing the herons multiple times in the past month, I seemed to be unable to take even one decent photo. This was strange because generally Great Blue Herons are not extremely difficult to photograph. But these two (I came to believe that there were two although I have had as many as “four” heron sightings in one day) appeared to delight in taking off a few seconds after being spotted, turning their backs to the camera, standing in horrible, streaky light, or perching on logs where I could sort of see them but not really get a good view. My first sighting of a GBH on Thanksgiving was no different as the bird walked behind a tree trunk while my camera was focusing. After waiting for a few minutes, I sighed and continued down the trail. As I rounded the first bend, I took out my binoculars to look for the heron. Of course, at that point the heron had gone way the heck down to the other end of the lake.
Normally, I wouldn’t have double backed but honestly these herons were annoying me. 🙂 By the time I returned to the other end of the lake, I discovered that the heron was not that far from the boating dock where the ducks hang out. AND he or she had been joined by a (or the) second heron! I managed to get a photo of them both. Not the BEST photo, but still I felt that I had finally triumphed. Ha! A few minutes later one of the herons took off and when it landed I was also able to get a second photo. This one was better. So I guess the score was something like GBHs: 10, Elly: 2.
On Saturday – or CATurday as it is of course known in my household – I again arrived at Bond Park early. The parking lot was not empty of birds, but after being defeated by a couple of turbo-charged woodpeckers, I decided to head up to the athletic fields. I was standing in the middle of Athletic Field 4 when all of a sudden a Red-shouldered Hawk flew onto a light pole where he (I am calling him “he” because of what happened later) stayed for a few seconds. He was extremely loud and yelled the entire time. He took off from the lights and flew into some trees. I had no trouble continuing to hear him! So I left the field and found him perched in a tree hollering his head off. His feathers looked wet and he did not seem very happy. But *I* was happy to see him nevertheless! After about ten minutes he took off again and although I could still hear him, I decided not to follow him. I went back across the athletic field, intending to go back to the parking lot and take the Lake Trail.
But when I got to the parking lot, a second Red-shouldered Hawk came soaring in and alighted on top of a tall pine tree. She was also yelling. I zoomed in on her and saw that she was larger than the one I had seen previously – and that is how I decided that she was the female and the one by the athletic fields was the male. I assumed that the two were mates. They yelled back and forth for awhile and then she seemed to say, “Whatever.” Yes, I know that is severely anthropomorphizing. However, she stopped answering him, tucked her foot up into her feathers, and began to preen! I spent quite a long time with her, admiring her. I was also hoping that she might allow me to get a photo of her stretching before take off. She seemed quite content to sun herself though, so I left her there while I walked towards the lake.
On Sunday, I spent a little time with the Ring-billed Gulls and Mallards.
Then, I crossed the boating platform on my way to the ladies room. I heard some scrambling near a vent and to my surprise, a Carolina Wren popped out. It began vocalizing loudly, jumped up on the wooden railing, and dived into a small tree on the other side. As I zoomed in on the tree, I saw the wren perched next to a nest, still screeching. I wondered why the wren was getting increasingly agitated – until I saw a squirrel climbing up the tree. But after a few more seconds, the squirrel didn’t appear to appreciate the earful and left. No sooner had the squirrel departed than a second wren appeared and also dived into the tree – although this one dove directly into the nest. He or she started messing around in there and every once in awhile a little wren head would poke out. Too cute! I know this is not nesting season and I have no idea why the wrens were messing with the nest but hey, that’s their prerogative.
I took a slightly different path (away from the lake) than usual and came across a tree where I saw some Eastern Bluebirds. This tree had a cavity with a Bluebird nest in it and – you guessed it – a Bluebird promptly zipped in there and stayed for a few minutes. Huh. Maybe today was a “Fall Nest Maintenance Day.”