On the Road is a weekday feature spotlighting reader photo submissions.
From the exotic to the familiar, whether you’re traveling or in your own backyard, we would love to see the world through your eyes.
Oops. I’m not going to name names, but someone forgot to schedule the OTR posts for this week. Yes, that would be me. Sorry about that.
Albatrossity takes us to North Carolina. Our lineup for the rest of the week is Munira, BillinGlendale, Steve from Mendocino, and JanieM, in that order.
We interrupt your African Safari with a brief domestic interlude.
In late December 2022 we took an excursion, driving across half the country to visit with my brother and sister-in-law, who live in the lovely community of Carrboro NC. This trip was originally planned for October 2022, which is a better time for scenery viewing, but due to an unfortunate interaction between a deer and my vehicle in early October, we had to postpone that trip. We did not want to fly, since that seems like a very good way to catch COVID these days, so we loaded up the car and headed east. Sadly, I picked up COVID on the way back, even though our only times indoors in the company of strangers were VERY brief stops at rest areas and gas stations. Go figure. This current variant is one contagious virus, folks.
Nonetheless, the trip was good, and we spent several days relaxing in North Carolina, taking short hikes and watching birds in the warmer weather there. Here are a few of those.
I love seeing Carolina Chickadees (Poecile carolinensis) when I am in the Carolinas, so that I can study them and listen to them just in case one ever wanders up to my part of Flyover Country (they are the expected chickadee species in southeastern Kansas right now). There are some plumage differences (less white on the wings, etc.) and their song is different from the Black-capped Chickadees who frequent my home feeders, but by watching them daily you can begin to get a feel for the behaviors and attitudes that are known by the unfortunate term “jizz” in birdwatching lingo. Just like you can recognize your friends at a distance by the way they walk and move, you can learn the unique styles of various bird behaviors to help you ID them from just a glance. Here is a fascinating look at the origin of this term, from British Birds. Enjoyable reading! Click here for larger image.
The other bird with Carolina in its name is the Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus). There is no need for me to study these closely, since they are abundant at my feeders in Kansas, but they are loud and seemingly opinionated creatures, for sure. This one was scolding another wren who may have been taking too long at the feeder. Click here for larger image.
One of the birds I wanted to photograph is the Pine Warbler (Setophaga pinus). This is a year-round resident in much of North Carolina, and numbers are augmented in the winter when birds from northern populations move south. I have heard them regularly in my brother’s wooded back yard, but have never been able to photograph one until this trip. It’s a start; the next time I’ll try to get one on a more photogenic perch. Click here for larger image.
I had better luck with my other target species, the Brown-headed Nuthatch (Sitta pusilla). This elfin busybody is a very common feeder bird in North Carolina, but their quick and jerky movements make them difficult to photograph. I got lucky with this shot. If you live in the western US, you might be familiar with its sister species, the Pygmy Nuthatch (Sitta pygmaea), and might indeed be wondering how to tell them apart. To which I would only reply, “Check a map”, since the plumage differences are very subtle indeed. Click here for larger image.
Another vocal year-round resident there, the Eastern Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus), is also found in my part of Flyover Country, but only as a summer resident. This male seemed to be gathering nesting material, in early January, which seemed somewhat premature to me. Maybe he had consulted with a wooly-bear caterpillar and learned that it will be a mild winter. Click here for larger image.
Northern Mockingbirds (Mimus polyglottos) are familiar to birders all across the country, but are still fun to watch and photograph. This one was, uncharacteristically for this species, silent as it flew in to inspect the strange person with a long lens, sitting quietly in the yard. Click here for larger image.
House Finches (Haemorhous mexicanus) are also familiar backyard birds in much of the country even though they are only native to the southwestern part of the USA. Thanks to a release of a few birds from California from a New York pet store in 1939, they can now be enjoyed in North Carolina as well. This one, however, is not typical. It seems to be missing some pigment from its head region. Such leucistic individuals seem to be fairly common among House Finches. Click here for larger image.
The last two images are of a couple of migrants, who find the NC winters to be much more tolerable than the winters in Canada. This is a female Purple Finch (Haemorhous purpureus), a close relative of the House Finch above, and often confused with that species. This is a good example of how learning the jizz of a bird can aid in identification; I immediately recognized (and confirmed with this picture) that this was not one of the abundant House Finches at the feeders. Sturdier and shorter-tailed than the House Finch, and the dramatic white eyebrow on this female clinches the ID. Click here for larger image.
Another migrant from Canada and the US northeastern states, this White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) is also familiar to most North American Birders. They come in two morphs, based on the color of the eyebrow stripe (tan, like this one, or white). Those plumage differences mask a large number of behavioral, endocrinological, reproductive, mating preference, and other differences. My friend Kenn Kaufman has a very good article explaining the quadruple personalities of this common backyard bird. Click here for larger image.