Birding at MacAlpine Creek Park January 2022

I bought a journal to keep track of some of the birds I’ve seen and places I’ve visited, but like most of my journals, my writing in it has been haphazard at best. Since I still would like to keep some kind of record, I decided to start recording some of my adventures in this blog.

Reading that various ducks winter at MacAlpine Creek Park (in Charlotte,NC), I have made several visits in the past few months, hoping to see new waterfowl. So far, I’ve only seen mallards and Canadian geese. As much as I like to see these birds, I’ve been disappointed not to see anything new.

On my most recent trip to MacAlpine, I saw several types of birds and most excitedly, several I hadn’t seen there before (though not the waterfowl I expected). I started on my usual route to the marshy area where I have seen a great blue heron and an egret on several visits. Much to my disappointment, there was nothing there. Some mallards soon flew in, but I kept looking for the egret and heron. Then I noticed a bird sitting on a metal cross in the pond (I have no idea why that cross is there. Maybe someone can enlighten me.) Using my binoculars, I realized it was a kingfisher. A first time sighting for me. I took a few pictures and decided to go to the other trail I usually walk and maybe I would come back before I left to look one more time.

Belted Kingfisher

Just as I was leaving that area, a heron flew over my head and landed in a tree. I had never seen this bird in a tree (though I have since learned they nest in trees) and took several pictures from different angles.

Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron

I made my way back to the front pond, hoping some ducks had shown up. I saw some white birds that looked like seagulls. And before anyone corrects me, I know gulls are not just “seagulls” but I confess that is still how I think of them. Anyway, I have never seen these birds at McAlpine before. They didn’t stay long. They were gone by the time I made my loop.

Ring-billed gull
Colony of Gulls

Walking along the other side of the marsh, I finally saw the egret. I guess the slightly warmer weather brought out the turtle.

Turtle and Great Egret

As I continued my walk, I saw something a bit strange up in a tree. I thought it might just be some trash (more than once I’ve trained my binoculars on a plastic bag), then thought maybe it was a nest of some sort.

Strange creature

You probably notice the beak, but I didn’t even see that at first. Once I saw the leg (that’s just one leg; the other is a branch), I realized it was a bird. Another heron. He was probably trying to take a nap, but I walked around him as close as I could and got quite a few shots even before he woke up and began his creaky cry.

Great Blue Heron

I usually see several downy woodpeckers at McAlpine but not this day. However, I did see two other types of woodpeckers. The first a red-bellied woodpecker who I always hear, even if I don’t see them. They are very noisy birds and that’s not counting their rat-a-tat-tatting on trees.

Red-bellied Woodpecker, male

While I was snapping pictures of this woodpecker, I heard another one drilling very loudly behind me. I’m always reluctant to turn from something I have discovered as I can quickly lose sight of them and a bird in a hand, etc. But, fortunately, I did turn around in time to see a pileated woodpecker. The first I’ve seen here.

Pileated Woodpecker

Last, but not least, I saw a couple of cardinals, a mockingbird, several eastern phoebes, a couple of tufted titmice, and, of course, a scurry of squirrels.

Male Northern Cardinal
Eastern Phoebe
Grey Squirrel

I saw a good variety that day and was pleased with what I saw, even though I still didn’t see any different ducks. I also talked to a couple of other birders who had seen a hawk at close range and was told by another birder of a barred owl that lives there. I’m still hoping to see that owl and get some good pictures of the hawks on future trips.

Tufted titmouse

Bird Watching: Beyond Quarantine

Much has been written about the hobbies people have started while in quarantine– everything from raising chickens to baking to bringing home a new puppy. Few of these hobbies are anything new and maybe some of us would have started them at some point in our lives anyway. We just needed a nudge to make us use our imaginations That many people will continue with these hobbies–finding a new joy or way of entertainment that doesn’t involve a screen–is one of the pluses of being forced to entertain ourselves. Much like when our parents told us to go outside and play, we found we could actually find something new thing to do without someone giving us a script.

male and female American goldfinch

Whether because of the enforced quarantine or because my kids are mostly grown and out of the house, I have been baking more (with some success and not a few disasters), and also have picked up birdwatching as a daily obsession. Last summer I bought a pair of binoculars and a North Carolina birdbook and began observing more closely all those feathered creatures around me. I could recognize a robin and a cardinal; knew the difference between a bluebird and a bluejay; but who knew there were several types of woodpeckers living nearby? And why had I never seen a goldfinch (which according to my birdbook is fairly common)? How could I have missed such a bright yellow color?

Male & Female Cardinals

Besides gazing with my binoculars and snapping some pictures, I’ve also been enjoying a few books (of course!) concerning birdwatching. I recently finished A Guide to the Birds of East Africa by Nicholas Drayson, a charming work of fiction that had me googling different birds (in Kenya) as two men had a contest on who could identify the most birds in a certain period. The winner would be able to ask a certain lady to a dance. I’m now reading a memoir, Field Notes From an Unintentional Birder by Julia Zarankin. Long before Covid, Zarankin discovered birdwatching in the midst of some other life-changing events. Though at first reluctant to align herself with this strange group of people who all seem to wear shirts decorated with birds as well as multi-pocketed vests and have an abnormal interest in the various optics of binoculars, Zarankin soon enough found herself enthralled with learning about the birds around her and what they could teach her about herself and her own migratory habits.

In my own backyard, we have several trees, but there is also an empty lot next door, our own little forest. But, as progress would have it, the lot has been sold and now trees are coming down. Trees which surely house some of these birds I’ve been watching and feeding. Yes, I know. I’m living in a house on land that also once held a small forest, and I go to stores where a forest along with its birds and other animals used to live, so I’m trying not to be hypocritical here. But I have learned a few things both in my birdwatching and hearing the crunch and crash of trees. I’m learning to be more observant of my surroundings and more aware of the details in God’s creation. After all, they’re not my birds or trees; they are His.

I’ve also enjoyed observing the response of these birds as parts of their world comes crashing in. At first, they were quiet and out of sight, but soon, even with a bulldozer ramming its way through, they continue to come to the feeders; first the courageous chickadees and titmice, followed by the downy woodpeckers and then even the hummingbirds. A chickadee even put up a vocal protest, chirping above the crunching of branches before he grabbed his share of seeds and flew off.

So, post quarantine, I will continue to watch and observe the birds around me, and I will even try another new baking project.

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Jesus in Matthew 6:26-27)

male downy woodpecker