Sinister Operation

5.5.06, 1014 am – 1200 pm
Skunk Cabbage Hollow -> Strath Haven ->Yale Ave. Bridge -> Southern Red Oak Forest -> Sinister Operation -> Garden Ruins -> Crum Meadow

Throughout this spring, I’ve been wondering when the big day would come, when all the amazing spring migrants would arrive, when the woods would explode with unfamiliar songs, and colorful migrants would give me just brief glimpses before finding another soul to tempt. I’ve also wondered if it would actually be far more gradual than this, if each species would line up for their turn to arrive, just a slow and steady stream. Whichever was the case, I knew that it would arrive soon.

I turned off my alarm clock in the middle of the night for some reason, so I was worried that the woods would be silent by the time I eventually headed out after 10. But as I got closer to the woods I knew this was going to be an amazing day, and within 30 seconds of walking in I had already heard two new species for the spring, still steadily singing three hours after sunrise. I had intended to scout out the shrubland near the Strath Haven condominiums, but instead got trapped in Skunk Cabbage Hollow by the continuous song of the new parulas and Black-throated Blues.

After finally drawing myself out of the Hollow, I found Strath to be quieter than I had hoped. But heading for the Yale Ave. bridge, I suddenly stumbled across three singing Baltimore Orioles in sycamores on both sides of the creek, giving great looks. I could also hear more Black-throated Blues on the opposite bank, so I decided to cross the bridge and find a way into the unexplored Southern Red Oak Forest.

These are the best birding walks for me, the ones when you walk through a completely new area, finding great birds nearly all the way through. I was just in a constant state of awe as I strolled through the Southern Red Oak Forest surrounded by the songs of Black-throated Blues and orioles. Near the northern edge, I heard a very burry robin-like song, and before I knew it, a my first Scarlet Tanager of the year was in a tree before me.

Scarlet Tanager, male. Recently voted as the most beautiful North American bird, it’s a species that is quite uncommon in NC, replaced by the related Summer Tanager, while the opposite is true here in the North, as I’ve never seen a Summer Tanager around these parts. No photograph or words can do this bird any justice. Photo by James Ownby

Finally emerging out of the Southern Red Oak Forest, I suddenly found myself on the edge of the massive Composting Facility of the school, with the Scott Arboretum Nursery and Castanea House nearby. With the No Trespassing signs posted every few feet, I almost felt I’d stumbled across some dark, sinister operation that the school keeps hidden from the idyllic life of campus. Thinking about this though, I couldn’t think of a single possible malicious goal that Swarthmore could possibly have, which is either indicative of its innocence, or its sheer evil genius. In any case, I wandered around looking for an exit, before I found myself back at the retention pond beside the highway. I’m sort of worried about venturing into this area again, and may ask Julie about it the next time I run into her.

On the way back home, I did finally manage to work my way across the fallen log at Crum Meadow that had been successfully used as a ford during the Crum Regatta. It took entirely too much time and effort, but I felt sort of proud of myself in the end. That pride was likely the result of my idiocy and stubornness in even attempting the thing, but regardless, it’s something that I’m glad I did, but will never do again. Even on the walk out of Crum Meadow, I could still hear several Black-throated Blues singing along the path, and it was clear that this was just the beginning of the peak of migration. I look forward to my final week here.

  • 1 Scarlet Tanager – Southern Red Oak Forest
  • 3 Northern Parula – along entire route
  • 7 Black-throated Blue Warbler – along entire route
  • 5 Baltimore Oriole – Strath Haven, Southern Red Oak Forest, Crum Meadow
  • 1 Ovenbird – Skunk Cabbage Hollow
  • 3 Wood Thrush – Skunk Cabbage Hollow, Crum Meadow
  • 7 Gray Catbird – along entire route
  • 4 Northern Rough-winged Swallow – nesting at the Yale Ave. bridge

In the late afternoon, after some intense studying in Cornell, I decided to recharge with a quick walk along the North Crum Loop without binoculars, and it was clear that the day’s activity simply would not end.

  • 1 Hermit Thrush – Wister Forest, absolutely unreal looks, watched for about five minutes from five feet away.
  • 1 Scarlet Tanager – Upper Wister Draw
  • 2 Black-throated Blue Warbler – Upper Wister Draw, Wister Forest
  • 1 Great Crested Flycatcher – Wister Forest
  • 2 Baltimore Oriole – Wallingford Rd. bridge
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