I sat waiting for a Magnolia Warbler that had caught my eye deep in the undergrowth that envelops Carrboro’s section of Bolin Creek.
I saw glimpses of gray and yellow, but no clean look at the warbler that was passing through Carrboro on its way south to wintering grounds in Central and South America.
The Magnolia is a familiar migrant that can be viewed every fall when it pauses for rest, water and food along the creek banks. I stilled myself, and held the camera in position. The Magnolia fluttered in for a brief bath, and the camera whirred.
Wait, there was something else in the tangled green. Solid charcoal gray from behind, but I had no real view. Another Magnolia? I remained frozen.
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I waited. My arms were tired, but the bird would not show itself.
The leaves of a delicate twig that led directly to water trembled, betraying the exact position of the bird. He was approaching.
Now in view, I saw the warbler, deep gray on the back, no wing bars, neon yellow chest with a “statement” necklace of black wavering streaks, bright, bold white spectacles that would put Elton John to shame. Hold the camera still. It’s a Canada Warbler!
I refused to cling fast to the ID. I would go home and stare at the computer screen for some specific field mark to tell me I was mistaken.
But I wasn’t. We had a Canada Warbler right here on Bolin Creek.
Had this bird migrated from Canada where it’s been listed as a threatened species since 2009? It may have arrived from the Great Lakes, New England, or higher elevations of the Appalachians in our own state. I only knew that the bird had probably never been seen on Bolin Creek, but here he stopped … and stayed for four days.
The bird remained because Bolin Creek is a destination spot for warblers in migration. Our modest forest trail provides a north /south pathway of safety for tired travelers on journeys that may cover thousands of miles.
The birds follow the creek and find cover, food and water in the lush wall of vegetation that surrounds the creek. It is a riparian zone, and intact, it holds the key to the preservation of lands that support endangered birds during migration. Bolin Creek is not only a place to fly through, but a destination for warblers seeking rest, and sustenance along the journey.
Often, environmentally concerned citizens in Carrboro will rail against the multi-national corporations that are wantonly destroying the forests of Central and South America; that loss of wintering grounds for migrating birds has resulted in the loss of an estimated 1.5 billion birds in the past 40 years, but the story of these losses concerns more than just their wintering destinations. Birds must have resting places to stop during migration. Right here in the U.S., we’ve developed, partitioned, and paved our own riparian zones, swamps and forests, leaving the birds with fewer places to stop on their journey.
Right here in Carrboro, the Board of Aldermen are considering a plan to pave along Bolin Creek from Homestead Road to Estes. If the trail is paved, much of the riparian zone will be cleared to meet DOT standards for a proposed bikeway. This plan was shelved in 2009, but in the interest of access, we are once again facing a threat to the warblers and runners alike.
Access has become a magic word. An unremitting desire for paved access everywhere including our forests must not be allowed to overtake these fragile natural resting places. Safe bike facilities exist, and more are built every day that would not damage Bolin Creek Forest. A good example is the planned bikeway along Seawell School Road, among several others.
Every weekday between 4:30 and 5 p.m., the high school cross country runners make their way down the Bolin Creek path. Their laughter and conversation fill the woods just as the warblers’ muted chips announce their arrival to creek bathing pools. It’s more than coincidence that the birds and runners arrive at the same time. The forest itself is preparing for evening. The sun’s rays slant low across the trail, birds cool themselves one last time before evening roosting, and teenagers forget the day’s cares as they make their way south along the trail. Bolin Creek Forest isn’t a means to get someplace else; it’s a destination.
Mary Parker Sonis is a naturalist, photographer and writer. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org