Sunday, January 31, 2016

American Avocet (Recurvirostra americana) - 27Sep2015

Some folks speak of the Economy of Style.  Hemingway was a master of the economy of style.  Meaning he could use the minimal amount of words to get across a ton of meaning and substance.  The American Avocet is also a master of economy of style.  It uses a simple black and white coloration (or lack of color) in such a way that the bird is better looking than birds that have a whole palette of colors.  Of course the blue legs are pretty cool too.

So elegant, so delicate, so ........ cool.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) - 03Jul2014

Another bird captured on my NC big year attempt in 2014.  Of course this is a bird I have seen many times considering I grew up in the Northeast and have birded up there since.  The Black-capped Chickadee is common up North, and probably more common in NC than most think, but ID is difficult because it is so similar to Carolina Chickadee.  However, the guesswork is taken out if you head up to the summit of Clingman's Dome, the most reliable place in NC to see and hear them.

Although some people claim that Carolina Chickadees can also give the 3 note "hey, sweetie" song, if you hear it on the top of Clingman's Dome in breeding season, you can be pretty sure it is a BC Chickadee.  This bird pictured here was singing away.

One visual field mark is that BC Chickadees have more white edging on the tertials, like this bird.

Some field guides also mention differences in the white pattern on face and nape, but I would be hard pressed to ID based on that.  Probably the cutest bird in North America and an outsized personality to boot.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Wood Stork (Mycteria americana) - 26Jul2014

If Wood Storks are the only storks in North America, does that mean our babies are brought to us by Wood Storks?  That would be kind of scary I would think for the babies.  The head of the Wood Stork is primordial looking, bringing to mind some creature from the Dark Crystal.

This photo was taken during my "big year" while watching my wife compete at the Battle of the Border which is a foot race straddling the NC and SC border on Indigo Farms.  It is a cool premise, all the fast runners in NC combine their running time and compare to all the runners from SC.  Whoever has a combined time which is lower wins.  This was one of the years that NC took the trophy.

Although Indigo Farms straddles the border, I assure you this Wood Stork was firmly on the NC side.  I checked with my iPhone! Not the best quality photo, but I liked the setting with the flowering meadow.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

White-tailed Tropicbird (Phaethon lepturus) - 08Jun2014

The White-tailed Tropicbird is a denizen of the high seas most of the year except when nesting.  When nesting they can be found in treacherous cliff faces next to pounding surf.  In fact Eleuthera is a good place to see them although I still have yet to capture a photo there because they nest in the summer.  I have however seen one there while surfing, it flew directly over my head making ID pretty easy.

This particular bird was photographed on an epic pelagic trip out of Hatteras in NC where we had both species of possible Tropicbirds (White-tailed and Red-billed) at the same time circling the boat. Unfortunately my pictures of the Red-billed stink and it was a juvenile so I am going to hold on posting those pics hoping for a better one this summer.

The ID of the Red-billed vs White-tailed is difficult, but luckily we saw the topsides and undersides well on both birds.

My little brother did field work on Johnston Atoll in the Pacific and had Red-tailed Tropicbirds all over the place nesting while he was there.  Not fair, he is not even a birder.....

Friday, January 22, 2016

Roseate Spoonbill (Platalea ajaja) - 07Jun2014

"A bizarre wading bird of the southern coasts, the Roseate Spoonbill uses its odd bill to strain small food items out of the water. Its bright pink coloring leads many Florida tourists to think they have seen a flamingo." - Cornell website.

Bizarre is right.  Notice no adjectives describe this bird as beautiful despite it's bright pink coloration.  This bird has what some people call a butterface.  Everything is nice but-her-face.  If this bird's face was all white like an egret's, then it could be one of the most beautiful birds in North America.  However, it has been cursed with a butterface and hopefully that will help protect it from harassment.

This particular bird was found on the very East end of Bear Island which is also known as Hammocks State Beach near Camp Lejeune.  I remember this trip very well because unknown to me at the time, it was military appreciation day and the ferry landing and island drop off was a zoo.  It was a small miracle that I got on one of the ferries and made it over.  I was in a race for time because several hours later I was scheduled on the Ocracoke Ferry out of Cedar Island.  So once I made it to the beach on Bear Island I had to run the couple miles on beach sand to get the bird and run back.  I don't like being in such a rush, but this bird was very obliging and easy to find.  In fact the area it was in was full of beach goers and dogs running around so it was another small miracle that it was there.  I love when a plan comes together.  The odd thing is none of the non-birders even seemed to notice this large pink bird standing in the shallows. After all these years, I should not be surprised anymore about this, but it still boggles my mind that people were more interested in drinking bear and playing on their floats than studying this "bizarre" bird.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (Tyrannus forticatus) - 19Oct2014

The Scissor-tailed Flycatcher is one of those rare NC birds that I have had luck with.  Some folks in NC have had a really hard time seeing them, but I have seen probably 4-5 in several years, 2 of which I found. 

The following picture is one that I found with my friend Shun near Lake Landing at Mattamuskeet in NC.

The Cornell website's second word describing this species is "elegant".  I could not agree more.  You would think a member of the Tyrant flycatchers would not be described as elegant, but this particular flycatcher is elegant and a tyrant at the same time which is quite unique.

The beauty of this species is that if they are around, they are fairly easy to spot as they like to perch on exposed wires.  You would think that the tail would get in the way of their fly-catching but it seems it's tail helps it to turn on a dime in mid air and catch it's erratic prey.  Until I bag myself a Fork-tailed Flycatcher, this may be my favorite flycatcher. 

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Common Nighthawk (Chordeiles minor) - 13Jun2014

The Common Nighthawk is a goatsucker, but I assure you that ancient Greek misnomer has no substance.  No one has ever photographed a goatsucker on the teat of a goat.  During migration they can make quite a spectacle and once I did witness thousands streaking over Ft. Fisher which is probably one of the biggest highlights of my birding life.

This particular bird was photographed at Wrightsville Beach in the height of summer beach going.  Presumably it was nesting nearby because it was dive-bombing and peenting like crazy.  However it chose a bad location because it was on one of the main beach accesses at WB which can have quite a bit of traffic.

The positioning of the white bars on the wings help to distinguish this from the Antillean Nighthawk which my buddy Greg identified once in NC long ago.  However, I would be hard pressed to ID one myself.

I will get better pictures of this species now with my better crusher, but these will do for now.

Update 1Jun2017 - three years later I did end up getting better pictures.  These were from Fort Fisher.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) - 02Aug2014

If Osprey were not so common, it would be one of the most popular must-see birds.  Ospreys not only look badass, they are badass... The success rate of their fantastic dives is estimated to be 70%!!!!  I have seen an Osprey dive over the ocean at Topsail Beach and catch 2 nice sized bluefish in one attempt, one in each talon!  The below Osprey was on a nest right next to the Ferry at Currituck.   These photos are with my old camera but its hard to mess up with a bird when it's so close.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Northern Saw-whet Owl (Aegolius acadicus) - 01Jul2014

Ok so these photos are not the best but you try taking photos in the dark with a moving target that is normally pretty shy.  I am not going to wait for better photos because I know certain people that have been trying to get a photo of this species in NC for 20 plus years.  This particular juvenile bird was seen at Devil's Courthouse on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  My wife and kids went down the trail and waited by the car as it started to get dark but I hung on until it got pitch dark and these beauties starting tooting up a storm.  If you have never heard a Northern Saw-whet, do yourself a favor and  head up to the Devil's Courthouse on a summer night and listen.  It is one of those things that everyone should experience at least once.

Most of the owls I saw that night were brief glimpses of birds flying by my headlamp but this particular juvenile was a daredevil or just plain naive and perched briefly a couple feet from me.  I have been back to the same spot about 4-5 times and had some brief sightings and some distant tooters, but nothing compared to this one magical moment.