Birding Gwinnett County, Georgia (Graduation Party for Meg & Ethan)

June 12-15, 2015

It was party time in Snellville, GA, and wouldn’t you know, it was the hottest day in June to date (95° with 47% humidity).
Megan (23) just graduated from Georgia State University.  A language major, she spent two semesters in Spain where, while teaching English to Spanish students, she decided to change her direction from becoming a translator to that of teacher. Successfully completing this past year of student teaching, she graduated in early May, cum laude with distinction and honors.  
Her brother, Ethan (18), graduated from Brookwood High School later in May, so a celebration was in order.  Family and many of their friends from church and school arrived with good wishes for an evening of over-the-top fun (2-story water slide, bean bag toss, etc., etc.  Photos are available on Facebook.

For me, it is always a joy to visit with family, including those who came down from NY to join us at Jerry and Kelly’s house. Ethan has grown into quite a young man since my last trip, two years ago.


Being a morning person in this family of night people provided ample opportunity to do some birding. Early Friday morning (6:40 a.m.), I stepped out on their back deck (wet
with last night’s rain) where I just stood at the rail for two hours listening and watching. A Northern Mockingbird on the neighbor’s roof made sure I heard every Eastern bird I had hoped to hear - but without the bird to back it up!  Slowly, the birds in the thick mature strip of forest (mostly pines, with oaks and maples) picked up with their own songs into a full dawn chorus. The first birds to show themselves were the big ones: American Crows and Blue Jays. A Chimney Swift flew over. Two Brown Thrashers scratched in a mulched area in front of the trees; two American Robins were not far off. I searched out the Red-headed Woodpeckers I knew lived in those trees. The surprise bird was an Eastern Phoebe that alighted on the backyard fence wagging its tail constantly, then gleaning insects from the grassy yard.
Among the final birds to show up were the Eastern Bluebirds (male and female), Brown-headed Nuthatch and Pine Warbler.

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Bluebird on empty feeder hanger (neighbor's yard)

Saturday morning’s birding followed the same pattern as Friday’s.  In addition to the same birds I had seen the previous day, a flock of eight (8) Canada Geese flew over.  Common Grackles and Northern Rough-winged Swallows were present; a Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker was busy on a tree trunk and two Carolina Wrens serenaded.  (Both days’ sightings were entered into eBird as one entry on 6/13.)

Having gone to bed way early compared to most of the partiers, I was up early again on Sunday morning quickly realizing that many young people had spent the night!  One room was full of young men on air mattresses and sleeping bags while the young women were stretched on sofas and chairs in the living room. One young man sat at the kitchen counter, half asleep, strumming a ukulele.  I greeted him before carrying my bowl of cereal outside with me to begin my birding from the back deck.  

A Northern Cardinal was singing before the No. Mockingbird got started - yay!  Weather was clear so I decided to walk the neighborhood.  Wasn’t I surprised to find Jerry in the kitchen so early.  He wanted to bird with me, so we walked up to the lake and back through the neighborhood filled with mature trees (again, mostly pines). Jerry always finds the hawks (big Red-tailed this time) while my favorite sighting was the three (3) Great-crested Flycatchers chasing one another. Not-so-good backlit photo provides identification.

Great-crested Flycatcher

Eastern Towhee

Monday morning, I woke up quite early.  I didn’t look at the clock until I heard outside a strange rendition of “Who cooks for you?” It definitely wasn’t our desert White-winged Dove; it was a Barred Owl hooting the same mnemonic phrase but at a different pitch with rolling notes. It was 5:00.  Before I rolled out of bed, a Great Horned Owl hooted deeply several times as if to say, "You're not the only one out here!"

Since my flight home was scheduled for 5:40 p.m., that left lots of time for morning birding. Jerry had to work (manager at a Panera’s restaurant) so Kelly was up for taking me to Yellow River Park. Ethan joined us!  I had given him a pair of binoculars several years ago and when we arrived at the park, we both realized he and I had birded that same one together on my last visit. 

It was 7:30 a.m. when we got started and bird song greeted us at every tree. A target, Acadian Flycatcher, was surprisingly easy to come upon.  And, it felt good to hear Carolina Wrens and Carolina Chickadees again. 

For me, the best sighting occurred when I lifted my bins to catch sight of the Downy Woodpecker Ethan had spotted.  A small grayish bird showing yellow underneath walked quietly but busily on a horizontal branch through my binocular view.  Gleaning insects, its behavior seemed warbler-like but I followed it trying to get a good look at its face.  YES!  Vireo beak with yellow “spectacles”!  One of my target birds - White-eyed Vireo. 

The Red-eyed Vireos came much farther along the trail. There were three of them flitting around together. I had heard them calling, “Come here!” so we obeyed!  Nice treat.
As usual, the link to the full e-bird list of sightings at Yellow River Park is listed below.

Shaft of sunlight as we started birding Yellow River Park
Great Blue Heron & Mallards in the river
Ethan: Birding hours are brutal

There were no Lifers for me among the 46 species I saw over the long weekend, but I felt like my life was enhanced by many of the birds that showed themselves.

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