Sunday, March 27, 2016

Long-tailed Duck (Clangula hyemalis) - 08Dec2012

The duck formerly known as Oldsquaw.  This particularly dapper male was amazingly found on the fresh water Carolina Beach Lake in the center of CB next to a noisy playground.  He was especially bold for this species and stuck around for a couple weeks.  At the time I did not have a very good camera, so this was taken without a zoom on my wife's Canon Rebel.  That is how close he was.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Louisiana Waterthrush (Parkesia motacilla) - 21Mar2016

This is a bird that has always given me trouble from a photographic standpoint.  They usually are pretty hard to see, preferring thick forested streams with poor light and once they notice they are being watched they fly around non-stop.  However, this particular bird was obviously an exception and allowed prolonged open views all the while singing and pumping his rump up and down like a lunatic.  These photos were taken at the NC Arboretum at Chapel Hill.

The literature is rife with inconsistencies on how to differentiate the Louisiana from the Northern Waterthrush.  Some people look at the coloration, but this is not the best because Northern Waterthrushes can be white or yellowish underneath.  Some folks say look at the contrast between the belly/flanks coloration and the supercilium: on the Louisiana they are consistently the same (above bird is a good example) where the Northern Waterthrush can contrast quite a bit.  Other folks say to look at the thickness of the streaks.  Yet other folks point to the throat streaking: the Louisiana has a nice bare throat where the Northern has a streaky one.  Other folks rely on habitat: the Louisiana prefers fast moving streams where a Northern is happy in a fetid pool.  If you have a musical ear the song differences or even the "chink" calls can distinguish them.  However, today I noticed one I did not use before: the Louisiana has brighter pink legs where the Northern has darker legs.

The other thing to consider is that Louisiana come back earlier in the Spring than the Northerns do.  Also Louisiana Waterthrushes breed in NC and Northerns just pass through.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Barred Owl (Strix varia) - 16Mar2016

This is the owl that everyone knows mainly due to it's call.  "Who....who cooks for you...."  In Wilmington, year after year they nest and live on Burnt Mill Creek.  I understand the large trees and creek habitat but not the high population density of humans.  Barred Owls are quite shy in other places which makes them hard to get a good look at, but at Burnt Mill Creek and also some other select urban environments in NC they are very accommodating.  Hopefully they will continue to thrive in this type of environment because it is the type of environment expanding more than any other.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator) - 19Mar2016

The punk rocker of the bird world, the Red-breasted Merganser is one of those birds that is not easy to capture well.  They look kind of goofy most of the time but when you capture the crest in just the right direction they can put on an impression.  These birds I found at Wrightsville Beach.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) - 08Mar2016

The Pileated Woodpecker is the largest North American woodpecker since the Ivory-billed Woodpecker went extinct.  Normally I would not mention size, but when you see one, that is what strikes you right away.  Luckily this species is quite adaptable and can work with all kinds of wood whereas the Ivory-billed was a specialist peeling off bark from dead trees.  This kind of habitat was destroyed by heavy logging in the 1940s.  The last reported Ivory-billed was in 1987 of the Cuban subspecies.  Maybe some day they will use DNA to bring back the Lord God Bird (Ivory-billed) but until then the Pileated remains the undisputed King of Woodpeckers in North America.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Razorbill (Alca torda) - 20Feb2016

"A large auk of the northern Atlantic Ocean" is having another incursion year in North Carolina and even further South.  Back in 2012 it was big news and now people are kind of shrugging it off.  Personally this kind of incursion really has me worried about the future of certain species due to global warming.  I know some of you are rolling your eyes but then you are in denial and need to wake up.  My brother used to fish for Bluefin Tuna in the Gulf of Maine but they rarely get in there anymore and now they are moving far north and being caught offshore in Greenland which is historically unheard of.   The changing temperatures in the Northern oceans are moving species around and although some may prosper in new environs, I would think others will not.  The Razorbills coming down to North Carolina seem to be leaving Northern waters and although I can't find much literature online about it, I would think this would be due to poor conditions where they normally live including declines in "bait" fish like Herring.  Hopefully we will see some serious efforts globally to curb global warming in the coming years. In the meantime I will enjoy the NC sightings while I have them and hope the birds can make their way back home in the near future.

Razorbills seen from a Hatteras pelagic.

This one seen closer to home at Wrightsville Beach, NC.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Winter Wren (Troglodytes hiemalis) - 04Mar2016 and 19Mar2017

Winter Wren is almost as skulky as Sedge Wren but every so often one comes out of the thick underbrush to say hello, or usually to scold the annoying human intruding in it's wooded domain.  This bird can let out the most complicated and beautiful song for such a small creature.  Even a partially deaf guy like me can hear and appreciate this song.

The below bird was seen at Mason Farm in Chapel Hill, NC in 2017.

And below a year earlier in 2016.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Sedge Wren (Cistothorus Platensis) - 07Mar2016

Sedge Wren is one of those not too uncommon birds that are hard to see because of their skulking behavior.  However, I have found that most birds will warm up to you if you just give them time.  When I saw this Sedge Wren at Fort Fisher I decided to not push the bird and stayed a healthy distance away waiting for the right moment when he/she decided it was safe to come out.  After about 25 minutes of standing stock still, he/she finally popped out long enough to snap these photos.  Now if I can just get a Black Rail to do the same thing.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Glaucous Gull (Larus hyperboreus) - 20Feb2016

No longer can the Glaucous Gull claim to be my North Carolina nemesis bird.  I have chased birds in Manteo, the OBX and even one that was eating Cheetos from the hands of children on Wrightsville Beach.  That last bird took off just before I got the beach because the children had run out of Cheetos.  The bird below was seen on a Patteson Pelagic out of Hatteras and in fact joined us very shortly after leaving the inlet.

The second and third winter birds we get in NC are all white and make photography difficult even in ideal conditions.  Adults birds are harder to come by and usually stick to the frozen North.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Red Phalarope (Phalaropus fulicarius) - 20Feb2016

Red Phalaropes and phalaropes in general are an interesting family.  So small and dainty yet they make a living among the high seas among jaegers and gulls and other predators.  The bushtits of the sea bird world.  On North Carolina pelagics you don't ordinarily get much time to study them up close because they routinely fly away upon approach.  They have bills a bit thicker than Red-necked Phalaropes and the black ear patch is a fairly good field mark in non-breeding seasons.  Not to mention that in the winter they are the default phalarope.

Here is a rare photo from a Red Phalarope on the beach at Fort Fisher, NC in 2018.

Here are some photos from a Hatteras Pelagic.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Merlin (Falco columbarius) - 27Feb2016

The Merlin is the sneak attack specialist of the falcons.  This particular bird was a perfect example.  My friend and I were scoping some shore birds including Semi-palmated Plovers, Piping Plovers and Greater Yellowlegs when this Merlin came in out of nowhere and quickly snatched an unsuspecting Semi-palmated Plover right in front of us.  I was not quick enough to snap photos of the attack as I was caught unaware as much as the shorebirds were. Luckily the Merlin decided to have her meal near by.