Sunday, September 30, 2012

Yurt Life

In mid-August, we took a weekend-long road trip 3 hours northwest to Macon. Maureen had been invited to give a talk at the monthly meeting of the Ocmulgee Audubon Society about the natural history of Skidaway Island where she had been working as a naturalist for the state park, and brought along lots of fossils to boot (the whole thing was great!).

Maureen Leong-Kee, Naturalist
The trip was also a perfect excuse us to see more of Georgia than we had. We love our marshes here in the "low country", as they call it, but Georgia's geography becomes much more interesting and varied as you travel farther inland, until finally reaching the Blue Ridge Mountains in the north. We've been starved for a change of landscape for a while now, as Florida, like Savannah, is essentially flat and marshy. I would have been happy to see even a slight incline after all of our time on the level, but we managed much more than that. Maureen found us a great campsite at High Falls State Park, which, as the names suggests, has a scenic series of waterfalls cutting across the grounds. 

Best of all, we got to sleep in a yurt. A yurt is a style of housing that I'll describe as being essentially a cross between a tent a a teepee. It's more comfortable than sleeping on the ground in a tent, but still gives the sense of being in nature. The birding began as soon as we stepped out of the car, with several Eastern Wood-pewees using the surrounding trees as a landing base in between bouts of catching insects in mid-air. An Eastern Kingbird, a large group of Brown-headed Nuthatches, a Pine Warbler, and a pair of Carolina Wrens were also calling and flitting above our yurt while the sun set behind High Falls Lake. 

Outside our Yurt. High Falls Lake is just off to the left.
Inside our luxurious yurt. It was surprisingly roomy inside, like camping in one of the tents from Harry Potter.

Eastern Wood-peewee

The next morning we met up with James Fleullan, president of Macon's local Audubon chapter, and an all-around knowledgable nature-lover. He led us out to some sod farms, where we had high hopes of finding Buff-breasted Sandpipers, which had been seen there recently. They happened to elude us, but it's hard to feel sorry for yourself when we had half a dozen Uplands practically in our laps, and easily a hundred Pectoral Sandpipers milling about. We'd seen an Upland in south Florida last year, but had it marked BVD (better view desired) in our life list. We were more than happy to drop the asterisk after these terrific looks at an awesome migrant. 

Upland Sandpiper

Beside "grasspipers", our other target was Horned Lark. From the reports we'd read, we expected to be practically tripping over them. In the end, we did get our lifer lark, albeit, as a speck in the scope. Lose one BVD, gain another… c'est la vie! Honestly, we were happily surprised when we learned that they were reliable in Georgia at all, and now we've got something to look forward to next time we go back. Copious Blue Grosbeaks, and singing Field Sparrows rounded out a fantastic morning at the sod farms.

Blue Grosbeak

Northern Rough-winged Swallows

A little later we witnessed a medley of raptors at Ocmulgee National Monument. A Mississippi Kite, a couple of Turkey Vultures, three Red-tailed Hawks, and a Broad-winged Hawk were all swirling around together in a vortex of awesome when the pint-sized Broad-wing started getting aggressive with one of the Red-tails. After making a few passes, the Broad-wing went its own way, but this was the first time we'd ever seen these two side by side, and allowed me to realize just how much larger Red-tails are. Other than that, Ocmulgee was notable for an abundance of butterflies. We tried to keep up as James called out some of the more interesting species, but we were happy to defer to his expertise, realizing that we've got a long way to go before we can tell our Commas from our Question Marks.

Question Mark

Fiery Skipper

Fiery Skipper


  1. Hey!!

    Sweet stuff. Upland Sandpipers inspire me to improve my posture every time I see them, and they strut about like Egyptian gods. Those Northern-Rough-wings look to be planning something--y'all be careful out there.

    Why is it that finding shorebirds on Sod farms is so satisfying? It's not the same as the beach of course, but maybe since the only other way to find em' is at nasty ponds and water treatment places. The Sod farms are so green and soft, very psychologically calming.

    Glad the Hipsters birders are still at it.
    Thanks for posting.

    1. Thanks, Laurence! I'm glad the Uplands make you want to straighten your spine, rather than hunch over to find arthropods in the grass.

      There are certainly less desirable places to find shorebirds than at sod farms, although we've so far managed to avoid them. I suppose it's only a matter of time before we slog out through some seriously questionable muck in the name of tracking down rarities. Here's hoping it won't be in vain!

  2. Excellent write-up. I enjoyed having you both here and believe we should go out again soon.

    The migrants have been amazing, birds and butterflies alike. In the past two weeks I've found four butterflies new to me, three of them vagrants/strays. (Ceraunus Blue, Dainty Sulphur, Texan Crescent, and Yehl Skipper)

    Ocmulgee NM has been alive with neotrpic birds. I'm sure you've read my posts. If not then I will mention the 24 species of warbler in one week, including Golden-winged, Blue-winged, Nashville, Wilson's, Black-throated Green, Blackburnian, Bay-breasted, Yellow, Chestnut-sided, Magnolia, and Yellow-breasted Chat. It's been phenomenal.

    Keep blogging. I enjoy them.


    1. Thanks, James! Maureen and I are profoundly jealous of your 24 warbler species. As if the cobbler weren't enough to entice us back...

  3. Great Yurt!! I love seeing nature through your and Maureen's eyes.
    Thanks for sharing. I was excited to see a new post!

  4. I love High Falls because it's this wonderful waterfall right off of 75! A great road trip picnic spot.

    1. I'm glad you agree! Thanks for commenting, Kate.