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Chasing Spring 2014 – Warblers and Woodpeckers
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BEFORE DAWN in the longleaf pine savanna of the American Southeast, sound fills every niche. Carolina Wrens, up before the light, blast “tea-kettle! tea-kettle! tea-kettle!” Blue-gray Gnatcatchers “wheeze” at us from shrubby forest edge. Brown-headed Nuthatches squeak like rubber duckies. A steady chorus of Chuck-will’s-widows barks with a factory pulse. And as the first light lands on the spreading crowns of tall pines, silencing the “chucks” and owls for the day, a red-cockaded woodpecker calls a meek, raspy “peek!”
Our morning begins in a forest of endangered birds.
My pal Josh Lincoln and I are on a 10-day trip chasing spring from the Carolinas back north to Vermont. Here in eastern North Carolina’s Croatan National Forest, we’re actually late for spring. Southern warblers are already singing on territory. We’ve seen the warblers that make northern birders wistful: Swainson’s, Kentucky, Prothonotary, Yellow-throated, Worm-eating, Hooded and, if you want to count it as a warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat. And we’ve seen them all quite well.
Red-cockaded Woodpecker is one of the few bird limited exclusively to the US. Destruction of longleaf pine forests in the American south nearly drove this bird to extinction. In preserves like Croatan the birds are protected in managed plots as logging trucks still roll by. RCWs, as they’re affectionately called, are also cooperative breeders. Young males stick around to help the adults raise the next year’s brood. In with the RCWs is a healthy population of Bachman’s Sparrows, with male issuing a lazy song from high piney perches.
Lots more to tell from this trip. But we’re heading out to the mud flats this morning for shorebirds.
Oh, by the way, along with us on Saturday was North Carolina’s own Randy Emmitt, a skilled naturalist and photographer and all-around nice guy.