Monday, January 22, 2018

Bullock's and Murre Murder (16-22Jan2018)

Most mornings I try and get to the beach for an early morning walk.

Piping Plover at the south end of Wrightsville.

But sometimes looking out my window is all I can muster.

I thought this was interesting, two male House Finches with a different shade of orange or red.  Diet can affect pigment on this species.  Out west I have seen them in an almost yellow color.

American Crow - the best way to ID a crow in southeast North Carolina is by hearing it call.

Bald Eagle at CB State Park.

Bald Eagle almost looking like a Turkey Vulture.

When you hear crows going nuts, you can be pretty sure they have an owl they are hassling.  So I followed the calls and bingo.

Nesting Great Horned Owl at CB State Park.

Eastern Phoebe at Fort Fisher

Hooded Merganser and an American Coot at Fort Fisher Aquarium.

On the weekend I had a soccer tournament for both my sons in Charlotte.  Luck would have it that a Bullock's Oriole was in Charlotte so I convinced the family to let me stop on the way.

First Dark-eyed Junco of the year for me while waiting for the Oriole.

It only took about 5 minutes.... Bullock's Oriole.

Bullock's Oriole and American Goldfinch.

Nice white belly with contrasting orange head and under tail and dark eye line all help complete the picture for a Bullock's ID.

My buddy Jeff was there and he told me about a nearby rufous.  So I convinced the family to stop one more time before the whole weekend was consumed by soccer games.

Rufous Hummingbird - again only 10 minutes of waiting.  You might ask, how do I know it is a rufous and not an Allen's?  Ah, I am glad you asked.  Check out Jeff's excellent photos of the same bird with the tail spread and showing the trademark notch:

That gorget looks kind of like a running man logo.

Sunday was again consumed by soccer games but I got one hour of birding in at a random memorial garden near the soccer fields as my kids practiced.  As I walked through the gardens I found a tomb for a 3 year old that got me all choked up. A picture of a cute kid that must have had leukemia or something and the inscription said "he always made us smile"...

But I digress, the good thing about the memorial gardens is that I scored a year bird...

Can you see it?  Perfect camouflage.

Brown Creeper!  always a good bird in the month of January.  You can get them pretty easy in the spring in the mountains but finding them when they are relatively silent is tough due to the camouflage.

Dark-eyed Junco

Red-tailed Hawk

My youngest made it to the championships and were ultimately beat in a nail biter - 4 to 3.

My oldest won his last game but they did not make it to the championships.  They both scored and played heroically.

I really wanted to stop for Common Mergansers on the way home but Sherry L reported a Thick-billed Murre at Wrightsville Beach so instead I stepped on the gas to try and make it home before first light which actually worked for my wife as she wanted to pick up the dogs at the kennel before they closed.

I made it the beach at 4:30 pm but I could not find the murre.

Laughing Gull

Young Common Eider at Johhny Mercer pier.

I was really bummed that I could not find it but if you know me, you know I don't give up easy.  So in the morning I got up early and headed to WB for sunrise.

Unbeknown to me, Sam Cooper was behind me and snapped this photo of myself looking for the Murre.

Same joined me and he was the one that ended up finding the Thick-billed Murre again.

What you can't tell that is a Thick-billed Murre?  You best get yourself some glasses, it is obvious. Let me zoom in for you....

Thick-billed Murre - alcid with short but pointed bill.  In the same spot as seen the previous day.

Then 5-10 minutes after we located it, it started flapping a wing and looking like it was not doing so well.  That attracted some gulls, a cormorant and a loon to see what was up.  Before we process what was going on a Great Black-backed Gull flew in and Murdered the Murre.  Sam documented the murder a lot better than I did, as his camera has great zoom:

Common Eider at Johhny Mercer's Pier.

The ocean was perfect glass....Ideal conditions for combing through loon flocks.

Pacific Loon!  You can see the rounded head and lack of a neanderthal brow like the nearby Common Loons have.  I saw a pretty well defined chin strap with my scope but pictures were not as good.

You can barely make out the chin strap here and the dainty bill and the lack of a white horizontal bar on the neck.

Wow! What a good January so far....

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Quantity over Quality (9-15Jan2018)

Every year I make a resolution to only post good pics, but then my competitive side kicks in and I start telling myself that even though the picture is bad I should just count it and strive for better photos later.  This past week has had some horrible lighting conditions and generally tempestuous weather, so unfortunately the photos are not great.  However I have made some real progress in my year birding quest.  So if you are a photo snob, skip this post.

Gadwall at Airlie Gardens during a brief sunny spell.  I tend to neglect common birds for pictures and in the 2-3rd weeks of January start to clean up.

I have been trying to get out at first light in the mornings before work and usually I am not disappointed.  The early bird really does get the worm.

Common Goldeneyes flying over the Cape Fear River as seen from Federal Rocks.

There was a large flock and I assume they were all Goldeneyes but I only confirmed these three.  All were females.

Ruddy Duck

North American River Otter in the Aquarium pond.

The Eurasian Collared Doves are harder to find when it is cold, but look and you will find in Fort Fisher.

American Black Duck at Airlie.

American Wigeon at Airlie.

Mute Swan

Common Loon at south end of Wrightsville.

Osprey at Airlie.  Most Ospreys migrate to South America in the winter but we get a few hardy ones that prefer to stay in NC.

House Finch

On Friday I was able to take my belated day off from the week before and kick off my annual OBX trip.  Last week I canceled my planned trip due to the icy roads.  First stop at first light was Beasley Rd and the pond that hosts huge congregations of geese.  I am not a huge fan of this spot because of the distances involved which prevents decent photos, but where else can you get all three rare geese in one go?

So this photo sucks and I am not officially calling it, but check the two white geese slightly left of center frame.  There is a smaller goose directly in front of a bigger one.  The bill is smaller, eye is smaller and in general it is smaller.  If not a Ross's Goose, then some kind of hybrid.  Since I couldn't get any detail I am not counting it.

If you have been to this spot, you have met the neighbor's dogs.  Super friendly but kind of annoying. Firstly they jump up on you and get you all muddy.  Secondly they routinely run out into the fields and scare the s**t out of all the geese you are trying to look at.  There is one of them on the left side of this shot.

Here is another look at the possible Ross's Goose in center frame sandwiched between the various color morphs of the Snow Geese.  The head and bill are just way smaller.

There were several Cackling Geese in the flock, here is one in lower center frame.  Much smaller and bill very dainty.

Looking through the Snow Geese I finally picked out some Greater White-Fronted Geese.  You can barely make out the white area behind the bill and the dark bellies.

Here is the flock in flight with the Snow Geese, one Greater White-fronted in upper right, and the possible Ross's Goose in lower right.

Greater White-fronted Geese - also known as Speckle-bellies.

In a nearby field I had a huge flock of Snow Geese fly over and again think I had a Ross's Goose and maybe even a couple.  See the smaller bird in center frame.  What do you think dear readers?

At Lake Phelps I visited the Cypress Overlook and the weather was downright weird.  The sun was out but the ice on the edge of the lake was causing a weird vapor fog.  The temp was in the 50s so the ice was melting rapidly and making a eerie noise as the broken ice was being forced by the wind onto the lake edge.  A couple times rain clouds would roll in and it would pour.  I had to head to my truck three times before I called it quits.

Ice being driven up to the north edge of Lake Phelps.

Canvasback in the ice vapor just beyond the ice soup that was the northern edge of Lake Phelps.

Bald Eagle - 50 yards away from the edge of the lake, the sun was out.

As the Alligator bridge was being worked on, I was forced to take the long way via Mattamuskeet.

Common Goldeneye in Lake Matta.

Northern Shoveler - the wind was bad and I can't tolerate searching for something good with a scope in high wind so I didn't stay long.

On the road up to Alligator, I must have stopped 10 times to take a closer look at roadside hawks.

They all ended up being Red-tailed Hawks.

Once I got to Alligator, more hawks got me excited only to continue the RTHA trend.

This one had a dark band around the lower belly and the legs appeared to be feathered all the way down.


Northern Bobwhite - My main target was Short-eared Owls but all I managed for photos at dusk was a large covey of Bobwhite.  I did eventually see a Short-eared Owl but it was too dark for a photo.

Saturday I started the day bright and early meeting the Gattos at Cape Point.

Eastern Meadowlarks were everywhere and singing.

Turkey Vultures sometimes like a day at the beach.  Especially when rotting fish is around.

After combing through thousands of gulls, I finally found this Iceland Gull in center frame.  White primaries and black bill.

Brown Pelican


I regretted not bringing my surfboard when I saw the waves at the old lighthouse spot.

Meanwhile at Pea Island, huge flocks of Snow Geese were doing the kinds of things that Snow Geese like to do.

American Avocets

King Rail at Bodie Island - I think I missed a photo of King Rail last year.  They are not easy to find and photograph.


Sunday was originally supposed to be the nicest day when low winds and warm temps but it didn't work out that way.  Windy and cold to the bone.  Sparrows don't like wind so I pulled the plug on looking for Le Conte's at Mackay and instead stayed on the OBX.

Female Common Eider at south Bonner Bridge.

Purple SP

Presumed Harbour Seal - apparently we can get up to 4 different species but the Harbour is the most likely.

American White Pelican at Pea Island


Northern Pintail at Bodie Island

Long-tailed Duck with a couple White-winged Scoters.

Sad looking Palm Warbler wishing he migrated to the Bahamas.

This loon is most likely a Red-throated Loon but it sure looked weird.

American Wigeon sandwiched between two RTLOs.

 I looked long and hard at the dark loon trying to make it a Pacific.

Here is another funky looking one.

Male Common Eiders are not common at all in NC.

Red-necked Grebe at Oregon Inlet

Bonaparte's Gull


American Kestrel

At Alligator, yet another RTHA masquerading as something better.

Northern Harrier

Adult Male Harrier - also known as the Grey Ghost.

Nice duck flocks on the way back to Matta randomly on the side of the road in Pamlico Sound.

Brewer's Blackbirds - for some reason my camera would not focus in properly.  I think my camera refused to focus when the background is horse shit.  The males were glossy black and had a yellow eye.

The females brown and had a dark eye.  Nearby Cowbirds had lighter throats and more conical bills.

Muskrat?  At Lake Mattamuskeet.

Tundra Swans were everywhere and somehow I neglected to take any pictures so I snapped this one at the end.

I love my annual pilgrimage to the OBX and can't wait to go back.