Good news for my readers, I’m on the road again. Just a weekend jaunt this time, but good for a couple long drives to and from which means time to get a post or two out. A relief as things have been tight as of late with training and haunted trail builds. Coming at you with something fresh today – extremely fresh for those that know how things usually go at Intrigued! Mentioned it a few posts back, but we had the opportunity to head down to Dauphin Island, Alabama for our second expedition in April. Have to give Linda full credit for that destination decision. She had done some research and learned that Dauphin was a popular migration birding destination and mentioned it a few times as a possible destination. This option was met with a healthy dose of skepticism. I had never heard of the place and well, seemed strange as I consider myself a bit of a birder. Boy was I WRONG (that admission will forevermore be referenced I am sure ha). Dauphin Island is absolutely fantastic for those enamored by feathers and beaks. Beyond that – not exactly sure what else you would do there as access to the beaches/shores on that island is surprisingly limited. To put it into perspective, I went at least +23 for the trip and almost all of that was on the island itself. Due to well established birding rules between Ron and I, the counter cannot increment until they are featured on the blog. For the astute you can read that as at least 23 posts coming your way. I’ll elaborate more on this incredible island as we make our way through those new birds. Until then, definitely a place to Crow about!
Speaking of Crows — as the first post from the island, we are going to focus on this rather mundane looking black bird. As bland as it may look from the onset, it made me as happy as the most colorful Warbler down there the day Ron and I spotted it. If you’ve been just about anywhere in the US you’ve probably encountered an American Crow. Smaller than their Raven counterparts, the American Crow can still tower over many of our more common NA birds. Problem is they know it and are quite pushy if they mingle with other species.
Hmmm, maybe this isn’t your standard Crow, hit the jump to find out.
Now, an American Crow does not get me excited … which by properties of association means you are NOT looking at an American Crow. Turns out there is another species of Crow that looks exactly like an American Crow from purely an appearance perspective – especially if you do not have the two of them side by side. Therefore, you pretty much have to trust me that you are looking at a Fish Crow.
The Fish Crow has been driving me absolutely nuts for several years. Each January it has made it to my list of target birds – each December I admit defeat as the line item goes unchecked. A glutton for punishment, it was placed at the top of the list for the Dauphin trip. This pretty much means we were going to stay on that damn island until this black feathered nemesis was conquered!
As I am now retired, that declaration was easy for me – Ron, on the other hand, was sweating bullets as he is still a slave to the grind. For the first few days nothing even remotely looking like a Crow was spotted. Admittedly, we were pretty preoccupied with crap loads of Warblers at that time – a glance at the list each night reminded me there was still work to be done (and Ron’s planned flight to be canceled if it didn’t get checked in time).
We decided to head on over to the Audubon Sanctuary and see what was hanging out. Linda and I had spent a brief amount of time there scouting it out before Ron arrived (honest, we were just scouting – no pictures were taken – at least as far as Ron knows, let’s leave it at that). From that early scouting we learned that a number of the trails were completely flooded out with 1 to 2 feet of standing water. Wait, did I mention it was pouring the entire week ahead and including the day we arrived!?! That pre-look did zero to add any confidence I was going to find this bird.
Luckily, the standing water retreated some on this visit allowing for some strategic hops, skips and one giant leap of faith to make it past the previous snags. Nothing like navigating through swampish forests in Gator country. We ended up at the far point of the trails which opened out to the shores – first time we were able to step on sand since we got there. There was a small area of benches with a father and son and another couple – all checking out an Osprey nest (a bit of future post foreshadowing perhaps ha). Ron struck up a conversation with the father and son – ‘cuz that’s what he does hehehe. Noting the father’s Cornell Ornithology shirt, decided to cut to the chase and asked if had seen any Fish Crows in the area.
This got me a look similar to someone asking me if I’ve seen a Robin while we were standing in my backyard. In a much more cordial way he responded with “what a noob, they are nesting in the pines in other part of the sanctuary”. Ron and I looked at each other, blinked in astonishment and then looked back hoping for more details. “We are heading that way, you can join us if you want”. We were truly in birder country. Ron and I tagged along and enjoyed our conversation – those two KNOW THEIR BIRDS! by sight and sound. Eventually they got us to a set of pines and sure enough saw a few black birds in the upper canopy. Got a few quick shots as they took off, but more importantly we now knew where they hung out.
We expressed our appreciation for helping us out on the +1 and decided to follow them back to the parking lot – they obviously knew the site well and opted to take the guess work out of the return. Funny note, they were prepared for the conditions in their shorts and flip flops – whenever we came to a flooded area they just strolled through the middle while Ron and I looked like we were practicing for American Ninja.
The next day Ron and I headed back to the Sanctuary to work on improving our Fish Crow shots. Made our way out to the pines and kept our ears alert for their calling card. Sure enough, we found some additional specimens and got some decent shots in the tin (the later images were from this second visit).
As I am out of shots, need to get you some interesting details about our Fishy. As mentioned above, they are slightly smaller than the American Crow which is a completely worthless reference in the field. The Fish Crow hangs out along the southeastern coasts with a growing push inland. Unfortunately, this does overlap with the American Crow regions. The truly discernible feature is their call. The Fish Crow sounds like it has clogged nasal passages. Suspect the American Crows laugh their asses off whenever they hear it, assuredly mocking them by placing their claws over their beaks and squeaking out Bob Dylan lyrics – “I’d liiike to sing a song fir ewe”.
All in all, I was elated to check off another entry on the target list and well, Ron was certainly relieved he could keep his original flight schedule. Take care all.