Thursday, January 30, 2020

Home Sweet Home (12-15Jan2020)

After a couple days birding on the OBX, what is the first thing I wanted to do on a dreary Sunday?  Go birding of course.  The kids had stuff going on and the wife also was occupied so I headed down to Fort Fisher for the high tide shorebird party on the rocks.

This lone Western Sandpiper was unfortunately missing a foot.  This seems to happen quite a bit for shorebirds.  I wonder if it is infection that does it, or maybe they get their foot stuck in a clam or something.  Perhaps a tussle with a crab?  Peeps are easy to ID this time of year, its usually a Western but the only other option is Least and they have yellow legs.  Semis are somewhere in South America.

The rocks at high tide is one of the best places for Marbled Godwits.  One day a rare Godwit will show up.

Dunlin are the most numerous shorebird this time of year.

American Avocets are somewhat rare down in Wilmington but we get a couple every year.  This year a presumed family unit has taken up residence.

American Oystercatchers are a boisterous bunch.

Short-billed Dowitcher - it has been said by one of the Carolinian bird Gods that dowitchers should be entered as Dowitcher sp. in eBird when a positive ID has not been confirmed.  Well that may be the best way to handle it in a transitional zone where there is significant overlap, but I find that 99% or more of the dowitchers I scrutinize in the salt water habitat in Wilmington are Short-billed, so I will continue to add them as such on eBird when I find a large grouping.  I do always scan for particularly obvious LB Dows, but rarely find them.  This one in center frame is obviously a SB.  The bill is short and kinked, the super cilia flares near the lores and although it is hard to see here, it had more white on the tail than dark.  Also, the back does not bump up like a proper LB Dow does giving it the appearance of having swallowed a grapefruit.

Another look at our unfortunate gimp Western SP.

At the Coquina Rocks I bumped into Shun and chatted for a while.  Shun is always fun to shoot the breeze with.

House Wren

Shun gave me a heads up on the Green Heron hanging out at CB lake so I headed up to have a peek.  Although I am mostly a solitary creature when it comes to birding, I do like to share notes with other local birders which sometimes pays off in getting some inside scoop.

Green Heron - he was right where Shun said he was..  It is unusual to find them this early in the year.

The rest of these photos are bibs and bobs from around town before and after work.  Getting a nice stroll in is absolutely crucial when working a 9-5 for keeping a man/woman sane.

Carolina Chickadee - I had been neglecting my usual haunt of Carolina Beach State Park so I headed down to pick me up some year birds.

Hairy Woodpeckers are scarce in Wilmington, but a certain honey hole in CB State Park is reliable for them every year for the past 4-5 years.

Common Grackles can easily be found when they are in town as they make a racket sounding like a million squeaky doors opening and closing.

Female Redhead - Ashley HS has been a great place to pick up all the ducks but you have to visit many times to get the odd duck.  The turnover is pretty good although there are some resident birds too.

Pied-billed Grebes have the coolest "song" and if you are lucky enough to hear it you will be looking all over for something bigger like a loon or something.  However, look no further because this little crooner is the Pavarotti of the pond denizens.

Downy WPs are the more common of the two local wintering Picoides.  The short stubby bill is a dead-giveaway.

House Finch

Ash-throated Flycatcher - this is my best self-found bird of the year so far.  I found it at Fort Fisher just south of the monument.  Unfortunately, the weekend after I found it, there was a huge civil war reenactment and I don't think anyone else got to see it.  Apparently Ash-throated Flycatchers don't like cannon fire and/or rednecks celebrating a racist past.  Not that I think any of my readers will argue with me, but to pre-empt some flamer coming at me, I will explain myself.  I drove by the parking lot at this reenactment on the weekend and many of the cars in the parking lot were festooned with the Confederate Flags and Assault Life stickers (think AR-15s).  Also, out of the hundreds of people enjoying the festivities, 100% of them were white as snow.  Sure there were some "blue coats" but I got the feeling they were paid actors and were the butt of the show.  Were there one or two true war enthusiasts that were not there because they were racist? Maybe.  It's possible a couple people just took their kids for the spectacle of it all.  Nevertheless, I don't think it was a very welcoming scene for anyone not white.  This is the part of living in the south that I hate.  Why can't we all just get along and move past the bigotry of prior generations?   I have ancestors that were undoubtedly racist, but the last I would do is celebrate their "heritage" in that way.  I celebrate their heritage by making a mean Shepherd's Pie or having some good Belgian beer.  So much more satisfying focusing on the positive.  Sure, we should not forget what has happened but let's try and not celebrate it and re-enact it.

Ash-throated Flycatchers are not racist...

What better way to end the day than to showcase a bird that has no qualms about mixing black and white.

Wood Stork!  Amy and Kevin M texted with a Wood Stork sighting at Greenfield lake and it did not take me long to find it.  I am amazed this photo came out even though the sun had already set.

One Love!

Monday, January 27, 2020

RDU and OBX (07-11Jan2020)

Work has been hot and heavy, but that's not always a bad thing.  Seeing that my HQ is in Durham and I had a 3 day work trip, I tried some forays to pick up a couple year birds in the triangle after working hours but before total darkness.  Consequently I did not come out with any decent pics due to fading light.  However, on the way to my hotel on the first night I stopped at Mid Pines Rd in Raleigh and early picked out the continuing Greater White-fronted Goose.

I tried for Woodcock one night at Mason Farm but the moon was full and probably it was too light out.  I think Woodcock are wary about practicing their rituals when an owl could easily see them.

Work ended early on Friday and instead of heading home, I figured why not head to the OBX for some winter birding.  My house to the OBX is about 2 hours further than Raleigh mainly because the roads are twisty and you have to drive through numerous towns.  From Raleigh it is a straight shot on the 64.  The wife gave me her blessing and I was off!

I actually made it to Alligator NWR by 4pm and had a solid hour of birding but I had no luck finding the Rough-legged Hawk or a Golden Eagle.

Northern Pintail off Sawyer Lake Rd.

I stayed in Kitty Hawk and headed to Bodie Island first thing to look for rails.

Virginia Rails were out foraging and not paying me any mind.  I didn't see any Kings.

Next stop was the Pea Island Photo Blind to look for the Eurasian Green-winged Teal.  

Plenty of regular Green-winged Teal but no Eurasian.  For the uninitiated, the eurasian sub-species has a horizontal white stripe starting at the shoulder instead of the vertical one as seen on this American cousin.

Snow Geese were numerous and rooting around the shoreline of North Pond.

I love trying to ID ducks on the fly. My initial guess on these was Scaup.  However, after checking my camera, I saw they were Ring-necked Ducks.

American Avocets

Jeff L arrived and was also looking for the Eurasian and it did not take long for him to find it from another angle.

Eurasian Green-winged Teal - too bad it was so far off.  Both Jeff and I were hoping for a decent picture to add to our archives. Jeff has probably the largest list of species photographed in NC and most if not all were photographed in Dare County.

We were chatting when I looked up and saw this guy fly directly over our heads....

Glaucous Gull - Jeff somehow snapped a much better photo than I got.  I think I need to change my photo settings to rapid fire and bracketing.  I have been avoiding it as I already spend way too much time deleting photos and bracketing creates 3 for every one.  Bracketing is the practice of having your camera automatically shoot three photos in rapid succession with different exposure levels.  The rationale that one out of the three will come out better in different light conditions.

Jeff and I parted ways and I headed to the old Coast Guard Station.


1st Cycle Great Black-backed Gull

Lesser Black-backed Gull (right) and a Ring-billed (left).

Adult Great Black-backed.

Lesser Black-backed Gull

A little later at Jeanette's Pier, I could have sworn I had a Harlequin Duck but it was far off and my pictures sucked so I decided to not list it..

This Black Scoter was more accommodating.

I headed to Alligator to spend the early afternoon looking again for the Rough-legged and Golden Eagle.  Those are both birds I am looking to improve pictures on.

A Red-tailed Hawk with a dark belly band was masquerading as the Rough-legged, but the head was way too dark.  RLHAs have lightly marked heads and also some patterning on the breast.

This young male Cooper's Hawk was so small I almost mistook him for a Sharpie.  However, if you look at the graduated sides of the tail tip it gives it away.  I only say male because it is so small.  Female Cooper's Hawks are larger than the males.

My final stop was Pungo NWR to see the Snow Goose and Tundra Swan snow storm.  Every evening and morning the geese and swans switch places from evening roost to morning feeding spots in the fields.  The sight is one of the wonders of the world as far as I am concerned and I will not even attempt to add pictures to show it.  These spectacles are best seen in person, kind of like the Grand Canyon or Machu Picchu. 

Tundra Swan

I hate to end it on such a poor photo, but the light was fading and these guys were far off in a field at Pungo...

Sandhill Cranes.

The ride home was uneventful and I made it home in time for a late dinner. 

Friday, January 24, 2020

CBCs (04-06Jan2020)

This year I participated in the Wilmington and Southport Christmas Bird Counts (CBCs) on consecutive days during the first weekend of January.  The Wilmington count was on a rainy Saturday  and I was assigned basically all of River Rd which is the road that runs from Snow's Cut inlet near Carolina Beach all the way up close to Greenfield Lake.  Habitat includes marshes, pine stands and one of the best county parks which is part of a school.

I didn't take pictures the first half of the day because of the pissing rain and the birds were few and far between.  However, eventually the rain let up and things started to get interesting.

GBH at River Rd Park

Clapper Rail - a typical between the blades of grass view.

Tufted Titmouse at Ashley HS Ponds

Chipping Sparrow

Eastern Phoebe

Savannah Sparrow

A large sparrow flock at Ashley HS was feeding in a soccer field and I was photographing some of them when this beauty popped up...

Lark Sparrow!  My first self found rarity of the year.  Not super rare, but nice on a CBC, one of the only write-ins.  A write-in is basically a bird species that is not listed on the CBC expected list and therefor is written in the margin.

As you can see the rain was continuing intermittently.

Cooper's Hawk - This bad boy caused most of the sparrows to flee into nearby bushes but I did stay on the Lark Sparrow for a while.

Little Blue Heron - One of my last spot checks was the Riverlights community which is a new "planned" community on the north end of River Rd.  Not much going on but a few birds in the retention ponds.

This stud Bufflehead was maintaining a nice little harem.

This was the second Loggerhead Shrike of the day, found at the parking lots near Home Depot and technically was not in the area I was assigned but was on my way home.

Everyone loves a good Christmas Bird Count.... until they get assigned Boiling Spring Lakes near Southport, NC.  In past years it may not have been so birdless, but about two years ago during Florence the dams breached and the lakes were no more.  The area is still home to some populations of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, but other than that a monoculture of Long Leaf Pine in an area of suburban sprawl does not lend to species diversity.  Here are some random pics from that Sunday CBC.

Red-tailed Hawk

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker - I tried long and hard to look for Red-cockaded Woodpeckers but failed badly.  I found plenty of their nest holes drilled into the long leaf pines, but no actual birds.

During my lunch break, I headed to Fish Factory Rd in Southport for a couple year birds.

Bald Eagle

Common Gallinule - after picking up the gallinules at the pond I was chatting with some of my blog readers when we saw a shorebird with a long bill flushing from the far side of the pond and fly right by us...  "Woodcock" I yelled.  Unfortunately I was not fast enough with the camera.

I headed back to my dismal count area and tried hard for the rest of the day looking for RCWs and failing.

Hermit Thrush with some nice bokeh.

Before work on Monday, I went to get some pics of the Soras that fellow Wilmingtonians have been seeing at Wade Park which is a local park only a couple miles from my house.  Wade Park is one of the few success stories of habitat creation in Wilmington. Most stories are about habitat loss.

The Soras did not disappoint.  This is probably the best Sora picture I have to date.

Eastern Bluebirds love Wade Park too.

Northern Mockingbirds love every habitat it seems.

Later in the afternoon after work, I headed to Ashley HS Ponds for some shots during the "golden hour".

American Wigeon mixed in with some Gadwall.

White-winged Scoters are rare in Wilmington off the ocean but we have a few now.

A Lesser Scaup has been hanging out too.

Gadwall males are under-appreciated ducks with some really nice patterns.

American Wigeon on left and Gadwall on right.

I love wing-flapping shots and will sometimes wait 15 minutes to get one.

Black Vultures and Turkey Vultures regularly hang out on the fence outside the ponds.

Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture senate - makes me think of Moscow Mitch for some reason....

I headed down to Fort Fisher to take a sunset walk and found this one sitting on the side of the road.  

Barred Owl - must have just been hunting and pounced down on a mouse or something.

Not a bad couple of days in Wilmington....