Friday, January 15, 2021

Loony Toons (12Jan2021)

Earlier this week a massive grouping of gulls and seabirds congregated at the south end of Wrightsville Beach.  They appeared to be eating some small baitfish, but live ones.  In past years we have had fish kills which attract gulls but this was not a fish kill.  


The Great Cormorants are easily picked out even at great distant when sitting next to Double-crested Cormorants.  They are much larger, darker and have a blocky head.


I continue to have great luck with Parasitic Jaeger fly-by's.


This one a light morph...


When I first saw this loon I immediately called it a Pacific Loon but as I watched it more, the ID troubled me.  It seemed to have a dagger-like bill, a slight "chin strap" and it mostly held it's head horizontally like a proper Pacific.  However, the head shape was too angular and the nape was not really any lighter than the sides of the neck.  I have since changed this to Red-throated Loon, but I have to say it's a weird one.


Here is a more typical RT Loon with slightly upturned bill, whiter face/neck and more slim profile.


Horned Grebe


Royal Tern


Mostly Ring-billed Gulls, but plenty of Lesser Black-backed, Great Black-backed, Herring, Bonaparte's and Laughing.


Royal Terns


Forster's Tern


Black-legged Kittiwake - I wonder if it is the same one I had back in October.


Black Skimmers hanging on through the winter.


Lesser Black-backed Gull



Iceland Gull



Another strange looking Red-throated Loon


Here is that same one from before.



A different more typical RT Loon with some darker tones.



Its nice to have a couple self-found rarities and even nicer that several other folks gave chase and saw them too, at least the Kittiwake.  I think I was the only one to see the Iceland.

Dovekies have been seen and photographed recently around the piers and jetties at Wrightsville but I still haven't been able to bag one.  Maybe this weekend!



Thursday, January 14, 2021

The Grand Tour (10Jan2021)

Last weekend I executed a surgical strike mission to get 3 rare birds in 3 different locations separated by hundreds of miles.  Usually when I tackle such lofty goals I end up missing 1 or more of them.  This time it worked and probably because I was persistent and planned the stops to be realistic.  In the past I have tried to tackle too much and end up running around like a chicken with its head cut off.

I left early Sunday morning and drove from Wilmington all the way up to Charlotte to get the continuing LeConte's Sparrow off Rhea Farms which is really not a farm at all.  The field with the sparrows is an abandoned development surrounded by residential units and commercial properties and seems like an unlikely place for a rare sparrow but birds are weird.  The fields are chock full of what I think is Broomsedge which is a native grass that birds love.  The grass is actually very similar to what I have seen LeConte's Sparrows in previously at North River Farms.


LeConte's Sparrow - been a couple years since I saw one of these.


The nape with purplish lines is a clincher on ID.

My next stop was a private home in Greensboro that has been hosting a Black-chinned Hummingbird for the past couple months.  This is a species of hummer I had never seen in NC but usually 1-2 are found annually.  Most times they are one-day wonders or are being hosted by someone that does not want visitors.

I posted up on the side of the house in the shade and nearly froze my butt off waiting for almost an hour with no visits from any hummer.  Luckily there were plenty of other birds to watch.


Blue Jay



Hermit Thrush


Northern Flicker


Dark-eyed Junco


Hermit again


Purple Finch

Thats when I noticed the neighbor had a hummingbird feeder too and I started scanning back and forth between the feeders.  Finally after about 1.5 hours the little sucker showed at the neighbors feeder and she invited me over for a closer look.  Apparently there are multiple feeders close by so the bird is probably making rounds and I think on this day was visiting the feeders more exposed to the sun.


Black-chinned Hummingbird - to be honest, I would have had trouble telling this from a Ruby-throat which is the other more common Archilochus hummingbird east of the Mississippi.  However, up here in the Piedmont, any hummingbird in the winter is a good hummingbird and worth scrutinizing.  Our Carolinas hummingbird bander had already been to band this one and confirmed it as a BCHU.  Luckily they only have one hummingbird so there is not confusion.


If you pressed me on the ID points they would be a longer more curved bill, club-shaped primary tips and longer wings compared to the tail.  Ruby-throats usually have a more projecting tail, pointier wing tips and a straighter bill.  It also exhibited a behavior which is peculiar to BCHU which is a vigorous pumping of the tail when feeding although this one admittedly mostly sat while feeding.

Next stop was the now famous Tony's house of Varied Thrush fame.  Tony has been hosting a Varied Thrush for several months now and has basically opened his home (the outside of it) to anyone who wants to visit at any time and day they want.  This is exceptional because Tony lives in a suburban area in Cary. I know it would be a hard sell to allow random strangers to come to my neighborhood parking on the street and walking through the yard, mainly because I don't think my neighbors would like it.  Tony has a nice set up with a viewing area cordoned off and a guest book to sign.  Now that I have lived in NC for over 15 years, I can say "Bless his heart" and I mean it in a good way.  Tony is truly the epitome of southern hospitality, making sure to welcome and chat up with his bird gawkers.  Sometimes carolinians can say that dripping with sarcasm.  

Check out this Wiki entry on the saying:

"Bless your heart" is a phrase that is common in the Southern United States.The phrase has multiple meanings. It can be used as a sincere expression of sympathy or genuine concern. It can be used as a precursor to an insult to soften the blow. It is also sometimes used to mean "you are dumb or otherwise impaired, but you can't help it" by individuals who wish to "be sweet” and do not wish to "act ugly".

In 2016, Nikki Haley, then governor of South Carolina, received extensive press coverage for saying the phrase in response to an attack by presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Speaking about ex-husband Ben Affleck's large back tattoo of a rising phoenix, Jennifer Garner said, "You know what we would say in my hometown about that? 'Bless his heart.'



Pine Siskin - Hordes of siskins have descended on poor Tony's feeders.



Dark-eyed Junco


Brown-headed Cowbird


White-breasted Nuthatch


Varied Thrush - it took a while but "Sunny" showed up!


I was on such a roll and already 3 for 3 and it was still relatively early so I decided to head over to the Big Lake at Umstead.  I did see the Common Goldeneye off way on the other side of the lake but didn't count it as I wanted a decent picture.  However, there were other closer birds.


Ruby-crowned Kinglet




Hairy Woodpecker!  Hairy WPs are actually pretty tough to get so I was happy to leave and drive home after this.



Wow!  8 hours of driving and 3 really solid birds to add to the year list.  Was it worth it?  Depends who you ask, but I think so.


Wednesday, January 13, 2021

More Local Stuff (08-9Jan2021)

I have been spending my free time hanging out on Johnnie Mercer's pier at Wrightsville Beach, usually early before work and late after work.  I'm not the only one.  I have noticed there are some interesting weirdos that come to watch sunrise and do religious stuff and put their hands up to feel the rapture.  Im fine with all that stuff, but where it starts to annoy me is when the people force you to listen to their crappy music while they do their ritual.  This one lady always blasts her cell phone at full volume at the end of the pier with the kind of music you can expect while getting your teeth cleaned. It really gets my blood boiling as I go there to get some peace and quiet and enjoy nature.  I know saying something to her will probably not go over well. Anyone who is selfish enough to make everyone else listen to their crap is probably not going to get it anyway. You know who else can be annoying?


Willets!  At least in the spring and summer, they will follow you around and yell at you non-stop.  In the winter they are mellow and quiet.


This Jaeger flew by one evening and initially I thought Parasitic based on flight style but looking closer at the photos I changed to Pomarine and now I have changed back to Parasitic after consulting with peers and eBird reviewers.  


The issue I had was that the central retrices (tail feathers) appear more lobular like a Pom's, not pointy like a Parasitic.  However, that can be deceiving unless you get the tail while it's banking with feathers spread.


The other thing that threw me was the bill looked bicolored like a Pom but peers confirmed that young Parasitics can get that too.



Either way, I did get Parasitic later so I am not worried about it.


Northern Gannet


Laughing Gull

The next morning I tried again early for sunrise...


Rock Pigeon


Another dark morph Jaeger!  Could it be the same one.  This one looked good for Parasitic too.

Meanwhile back at Carolina Beach Lake..


Great Blue Heron


Snow Goose


Ring-necked Duck


Black-headed Gull - this vagrant has been around for months.


Least Sandpiper or maybe Mudpiper.


This American Avocet was taking a dip at the Fort Fisher Rocks.


American Oystercatcher


Black-bellied Plover


Avocet back on Terra Firma


In the evening I went back to Johnnie Mercer's to try and find the Dovekie that keeps getting reported.  No luck, but I did have this Common Eider fly by.


This Black Scoter has been hanging out around the pier for weeks.

The next installment is a nice one-day giant loop from Wilmington to Charlotte, to Greensboro, to Raleigh and back home to Wilmington.