The 'Big Year' birding list hit 58 yesterday, as I made a mid-afternoon trip down to the Moss Creek Nature Trail to see if there was anything I'd been missing. A few weeks ago I'd wandered off the beaten path and spotted what I thought was a Fox Sparrow (red variety) in a really dense thicket at the edge of a pond. He did not stay in sight long enough for me to capture him on film, and I was not comfortable adding him to the list without either photographic evidence or an extended view. Yesterday, in a similar thicket closer to the Trail's entrance, I saw another one. He was unusually still this time, perching on a tree branch for more than three minutes and posing like a model as I studied his markings and my field guide. He was quite large compared to the White-throated, Savannah, and Song sparrows that are so common there, and his red plumage was distinctive. His facial markings matched the illustration's patterns almost to a T, and I felt great about the identification.
Then I wandered down toward the other end of the Trail, following a male Eastern Towhee that was being shy and was apparently not as photogenic as his female counterpart. As I gave up on him and focused instead on just listening to the different songs of the birds, one call stood out and actually drew me over the fence to the water's edge. The loud, boisterous vocalizations sounded agitated and aggressive, and I was determined to seek out the source. Just as I raised the binoculars to scan the woods across the river I spotted a very large bird darting between the trees. When I pulled focus on what I initially thought was just a crow, I was startled to find a Pileated Woodpecker making all of the racket. I had seen these giants a year and a half ago on Daufuskie Island, SC and was just awed by their size and plumage. This sighting was the first time I've seen one since then, and it really re-invigorated me with respect to our Nature Trail. I've long suspected those woods across the river were home to Barred Owls and other mature forest species, but I've currently got no access to them. This sighting has encouraged me to seek out the property owners and ask permission to bird their woods.
So the list is at 58 species right now, a solid 38.4% to goal. I've still not ID'ed as many of the waterfowl as I'd like that are wintering and breeding in the local lakes, so hopefully I can push the total closer to 70 by the time migration starts early next month.