Ellerbe Creek Big Day by Bike (BDBB): A Durham Birder’s Mission to Witness Spring Migration in Durham Proper
By Alex N
Each spring hundreds of millions of birds migrate from their overwintering grounds in central and south America to their temperate breeding grounds in the US and Canada. Although these patterns of migration are large enough to show up on weather maps, the massive movement of species from the tropics northward is largely unnoticed by the average person. Migrating birds are not only completing epic biannual journeys of hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles, they are also doing so in the darkness of night. During any given day in late April or early May, if you train your spotting scope or binoculars at the illuminated moon you might see little passerines flitting past on their way north. Of course, these epic journeys do not just involve smooth sailing: there is inclement weather, energy sapping headwinds, predators and tall glass buildings to contend with. Although some birds will fly straight through for hundreds of miles on end, most will need to make occasional stops to refuel and rest along the way. This is your chance to see these amazing creatures!
There is a common phrase that birders know well: “in migration, anything is possible”. Depending on weather patterns and timing, you might have dozens of uncommon species turn up at your local park. South Ellerbe Creek Trail, with its riparian habitat and vegetative cover could have over a dozen different species of highly ornate warblers foraging for budworms and seeking shelter. The green corridors within the city can provide essential stopover habitat for birds on their way to greener pastures. And they can also be migration “traps” offering the casual urban observer an opportunity to view forest sprites right in the city.
And this brings me to the topic of this post: the importance of Ellerbe Creek and its preserves for transitory bird populations. Let’s illustrate this point first by considering an individual bird. How about a Blackpoll Warbler? This handsome warbler will have spent the entire winter in the tropical rainforests, cloud forests or coffee plantations of greater Amazonia. Once mid-April rolls around our friend will have fattened up for what will be a transcontinental journey of nearly 2000 miles all the way up to Northern Canada. After surviving a long flight across the Caribbean our warbler now finds himself confronting strong headwinds and inclement weather over the NC piedmont. Exhausted and in need of food, he is fortunate to find a forested creek corridor despite the unfortunate circumstance of getting pushed down into a city. Without the stopover habitat of Ellerbe Creek our tenacious songster’s journey might have been cut short. In this way the creek’s flow, through its nourishment and transfer of energy, does not simply end as it pours into Falls Lake, but continues north to the vast stretches of Boreal Forest where Blackpolls breed.
To increase awareness of both the magic of songbird migration and the importance of stopover habitat—specifically Ellerbe Creek—one Durham resident has made it his mission to witness migration as fully as possible along the creek within a birding packed period of 24 hours. During this time Alex Nickley hopes to identify as many species of bird as he can, limiting himself to the Ellerbe Creek corridor—with its multiple nature preserves—and using only transportation by foot or bike.
This “Big Day by Bike (#bigdaybybike) will be a small effort compared to that of the Blackpoll Warbler that he hopes to encounter. But through it, he hopes to garner interest in the creek and its connections to both wildlife and a broader ecological space. Alex will play it be ear (read weather), but plans to do the Big Day sometime during the last week in April or first week in May. You can support the effort by donating to Ellerbe Creek Association per species seen or by making a flat contribution. These funds will be used to increase conservation and educational efforts that connect the creek with the Durham community. Results will be posted to the Ellerbe Creek Association website and shared over social media. How many species do you think he will find?