Birding… O! the Joy!

Leaving Fort Mandan on April 7, 1805, the thirty-three member Corps of Discovery team began their long journey to the Pacific Ocean. Encountering wildlife, waterfalls, and breathless beauty their toilsome persistence rewarded them in November of 1805 when Clark wrote “Ocian in view O! The Joy!”.  While our suffering may seem insignificant compared to that shared by the Lewis and Clark expedition, for spring birders having gone so long without south winds, joy is the only word that could describe today.

Monday, April 30, 2012.  With a full backing of joyous, south wind, the green tower counters experienced the best count in over two weeks.  4,604 birds, from 83 species would wing over and under the high dune counters.  Using the Grube Magnitude Index to measure bird migration in the dunes, it would go down as the 7th highest score ever (47.91).  No doubt bolstered by the good April diversity and staggering high counts from Chimney Swifts, Yellow Warblers, Song Sparrows, and American Pipits.

New for the season were American Bittern (flushed from the marram grass blowout!), Eastern and Western Kingbird (see more below), Blackburnian Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, and Orchard Oriole.  The season total now stands at 160 species.

The morning would stay cloudy, making identification difficult for the many small warblers going by.  Several themes were present through the morning.  It was clear an insect hatching had occurred on the beach, as hundreds of swallows and swifts took advantage by both swooping constantly in tight knit groups in front of the beach pavilion, but also sitting by the hundreds on the beach to feed.  The swarm would eventually lead to the highest spring dunes area count of 467 Chimney Swifts (4th highest dunes overall record).  The other theme was shorebirds.  Many migrating yellowlegs, Dunlin, Pectoral, Solitary, and Least Sandpiper would be seen flying by today.

Lesser Yellowlegs silhouette against the gloomy sky, 4/30/12.

Rounding out the day’s highlights included: 2 Merlin, 31 Eastern Kingbirds, 248 Blue Jays, 41 American Pipits, 232 Yellow-rumped Warblers, 88 Baltimore Orioles, a lone Common Redpoll, and 2 Pine Siskins.

By 10:15am, rain showers had entered into the picture.  Normally, the morning flight is shut down.  However, this morning, the birds continued moving.  Swallows continued to stream past, while intermittent blackbird flocks passed over.  While seeking shelter at the Beach Pavilion to watch for shorebirds, counter Brendan Grube noticed a yellow colored Kingbird approaching from off shore.  A quick phone call brought this reporter and his camera racing to the beach from the park’s interior.  With seconds to spare, the Western Kingbird had continued to stay perched high in a cottonwood, allowing for study (in albeit horrible lighting).  The extent of yellow on the breast and white edged retrices were noted in person.  As we approached for a photo, the bird disappeared, only to appear over our heads flying towards the lake, while quickly gaining altitude.  Among the passing swallows one photo was taken, seen below.  While it won’t pass records committee muster by itself, it helps capture a yellow bellied tyrant of some species.

Western Kingbird eluding the Green Tower Counters on 4/30/12.

The only thing that beats today is the prospect of what tomorrow’s south winds bring.  Birding… O! the Joy!

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