Sunday, June 24, 2012

Visiting The Swallow-Tailed Flycatchers -- June 23, 2012

          Many of you, like us, have already heard of the unusual pair of Swallow-Tailed Flycatchers who, for the last couple of years, have raised chicks on a farm in the South Carolina Piedmont near the town of Fountain Inn.  In fact, this pair on Gunter Road, is not the only breeding pair observed in our state in recent years.  At least one other pair has been reported nesting in our state at the Simpson Research Station of Clemson University near Pendleton, SC.  A great article, "Accidental Tourists" with lovely photographs portraying last year's nesting activity of this latter pair, was just published in the May-June 2012 edition South Carolina Wildlife magazine.  Why are they considered unusual for our state?  If you visit the first link above, you will see on the map that their normal breeding range is in the South-Central states.  In fact, this species is the state bird for Oklahoma!   My post here relates my and Carl's  experience yesterday seeing the Gunter Road birds near Fountain Inn.

           Returning to Charleston from our North Carolina mountain vacation, we made the necessary detour to try to see these Swallow-Tailed Flycatchers.  We followed the coordinates provided by a previous eBird report to the Gunter Road farm.  I had tried the previous June and had failed to see the birds.  This time was a charm however!  As soon as we arrived, Carl and I spotted the female Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher hawking bugs over the field AND we immediately heard Grasshopper Sparrows singing in the tree farm area on the opposite side of the road.  The Grasshopper Sparrow had also been noted in the area.  We were delighted to get both species immediately since the temperature was in the 90s and we were not planning on staying long.  We did not set our eyes on the Grasshopper Sparrows but did recognize them by their song.

Female Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher -- Gunter Road near Fountain Inn, SC -- June 23, 2012

              We also saw the male Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher hawking bugs at a distance from us -- close to the barn and beyond it.  We recognized him by the spectacular length of his tail!  He was unfortunately too far from us for a decent photo.  We could also hear what we assumed were fledglings or juveniles chattering from the grass or from a tree.

               Within the hour spent there, we checked off a few other species of birds including: a Red-Tailed Hawk, several Barn Swallows, Turkey Vultures, Mourning Doves, Northern Cardinals, a Red-Shouldered Hawk (heard), an Eastern Bluebird (heard), a few Chipping Sparrows such as this one....

Chipping Sparrow -- Photo by Carl Miller -- Gunter Road near Fountain Inn, SC -- June 23, 2012

... and several Eastern Meadowlarks, including this noisy youngster.

A young Eastern Meadowlark -- Gunter Road near Fountain Inn, SC -- June 23, 2012

          The Scissor-Tailed Flycatchers, however, with their aerial acrobatics chasing the bugs, truly did steal the show every time they flew close-by!

Female Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher -- Gunter Road near Fountain Inn, SC -- June 23, 2012

Female Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher -- Gunter Road near Fountain Inn, SC -- June 23, 2012

Female Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher -- Gunter Road near Fountain Inn, SC -- June 23, 2012

Female Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher -- Gunter Road near Fountain Inn, SC -- June 23, 2012

          At the risk of sounding preachy, I want to relate another incident that occurred during our visit to the Gunter Road birds.  Perhaps, if I do end up sounding preachy, I will hopefully be preaching to the choir.  The message nonetheless bears merit.  So I confess, this post is as much about birders as it is about the birds.  You see, as Carl and I birded from the roadside, we met the farmer on whose property the birds reside.  We had just parked in front of his gate (on the right hand side of Gunter Road as you approach from Oaklawn Road), when we first saw the farmer approaching in his truck hauling a load of hay.  He waved us to park in the drive on the opposite side of the road.  After parking the car again, we then crossed the road to greet him and we thanked him for allowing us to park on his land.  He continued on to his property and we continued to bird along the road.  When he returned from dropping off his hay, he stopped his truck and got out to talk to us.  He began with an apology because he felt he had not been very polite to us.  I was surprised and reassured him that we did not feel that way.  He said that he felt he should have been nicer to us, but that many birders had not been very nice to him.   He did not give any details.  Instead, he proceeded to talk to us about the Scissor-Tailed Flycatchers.

           The farmer told us that they had already raised and fledged one brood of five chicks and he pointed out the nest tree, a large oak on his property at the corner of Gunter and Oaklawn Road.  He also said that he thought that she was nesting again in the same tree.  We had seen the male fly to that tree from a distance and then return to a perch near the barn.   We also had seen the female hawking insects close to the gate.  Second broods are possible, particularly in the southern parts of their breeding range, but are uncommon, according to the Birds of North America website.  Does anyone who has been following the activities of this pair know if they produced 2 broods last year?  I certainly hope they do.  I would love to see more of these wonderful aerial acrobats in our state! 

         I wanted to share this message with birders who plan to visit Gunter Road to remind all that manners, consideration and general friendliness are important elements when interacting with landowners.  A few bad interactions with some inconsiderate birders have left a bad impression of birders for this farmer.  We, as visitors, represent the birding community and we need to be considerate of those whose land we intend to visit -- even from the roadside!  A friendly wave and an enthusiastic greeting worked wonders for us with this gentleman.  He seemed to really like his birds!  We certainly should not have parked in front of his gate in the first place.  He was nice enough to wave us to park in his drive on the other side.  My advice to future visitors:  It is probably best to park on the side of the road and not too close to the gate.  With his very large truck, he had to swing wide to turn into his lane.   Also, please remember you are a visitor to a community.  Even if you are birding from the public right-of-way, it is their community.  Be nice to the neighbors.  In addition to the farmer, another neighbor had stopped along the roadside to point out to us the usual perches of these birds!  I applaud this farmer for not allowing a few badly-behaved birders to keep him from interacting so nicely with us!  As a classroom teacher, I really do understand how one ornery kid can mess up your impression of how a class goes.  Thankfully, "a few bad apples" did not taint his desire to share with us! 

          If you go, you will certainly enjoy watching these birds.  What a life bird this was for us!  Indeed it will be a very memorable life bird for us --  for the joy of watching it fly, dip, swoop, ascend steeply, circle and dance while catching insects AND for the lessons reenforced to us about being considerate and friendly towards everyone!  Everyone wins when we are all nice!

Regosin, Jonathan V. 1998. Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (Tyrannus forficatus), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online:

1 comment:

  1. What wonerdful photos of this really spectacular avian acrobat!! G