Sunday, July 18, 2021

Quick Trip to the OBX (17Jul2021)

The wave forecast looked decent and the Pacific Golden-Plover was still hanging out at Salt Pond on the OBX so I woke up early (2am) and headed out Saturday to test my luck.  The plan was to bag the Pacific Golden and then surf for a couple hours before taking the ferry from Hatteras to Ocracoke and then to Cedar Island so I could listen for Black Rails.  Of course the best laid plans rarely unfurl as anticipated.  Thankfully the first part of the plan worked like a charm.  I made it to Salt Pond around 7:30 am and although it was already hot and sunny, the light was not bad.  Slowly making my way around the sections of Salt Pond that you can walk around, I ran into many Spotted Sandpipers.

In the distance I spotted two birders, one with a distinctive scope.  It was Sam C and Marcia L!  I headed over and they were already on the Pacific Golden-Plover.  Gird yourself for a terrible record shot....

Pacific Golden-Plover - way over on the other inaccessible part of Salt Pond.  It allowed good scope views and we could clearly see the long legs, long tapered wings, mottled white & black under tail coverts and the pretty thick white flanks separating the wing and belly.  Not sure if we would have been confident if it had not been seen and photographed by others much more closely in the week prior.  It did extend its wings at one point showing the unmarked gray under-wings but I was not quick enough to photograph.

The white flanks a bit more visible on this terrible shot.

This Rambur's Forktail was chilling at our feet while we peeped the Plover. Note the completely turquoise segment 8 differentiating it from an Eastern Forktail.

As we worked along the edge of the Salt Pond to get closer to a Tern flock that included some Black Terns, we got distracted by an unusual sight.  The very low water levels were bringing reclusive birds that are typically hard to photograph out into the open.

A very pale looking Least Bittern.  

I can honestly say I have never had a King Rail and Least Bittern in the same shot before.  These are two species that can be hard to photograph at all let alone out in the open as a pair.

Look at those feet!  Perfectly adapted for making its way through the reeds.

I played with my exposure compensation since the sun was reflecting against this pale bittern.

Pectoral Sandpiper - it seems early but they do surprise us by being one of the first to come back from breeding territory.

It was difficult to keep them both in focus but I can't resist a two-for-one.

King Rail

Stilt Sandpiper.

This welcome distraction did lead to the Black Terns slipping by before I could crush them with my lens, but I was happy with the wader photoshoot and headed off to try and get some waves.  Most of the spots around Buxton were holding small surf with the exception of the old Lighthouse which was looking really fun but unfortunately they were holding a surf contest.  I drove around checking a few spots and finally threw in the towel and got on line for the Ocracoke Ferry.  I am still hunting for my nemesis bird the Magnificent Frigatebird and I kept my eyes peeled but no luck.

Somehow I made it to the Cedar Island Ferry terminal by 1pm and then by stroke of luck got on the early ferry.  Initially I had scheduled the 5:30pm with the intent of getting to Cedar Island at sunset and then listen for Black Rails.  So my plan was thwarted yet again and I was not about to wait 5+ hours at Cedar Island for dark.  I saw it as a sign from the gods that I was destined to eat dinner and hang out with the family and so that's what I did.

Great times!

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Maine Weekend (10-11Jul2021)

I had some airline miles to burn and was looking at possibilities a month or so ago when I noticed direct flights have started from ILM to Boston's Logan.  My brother lives in Portland, ME and its been a couple years since we saw them so I scheduled the trip for a long weekend.  Our departure was on the day that Tropical Storm Elsa was hitting but somehow the plane took off and we made it with no delays.  Our first day there was a total wash due to Elsa but we connected with family and played some Risk.  On Saturday we did more family activities including stand-up paddle boarding around a lighthouse and some mushroom foraging.  The latter was unsuccessful in turning up some choice edibles but we did find some things.

No idea on this one...

Wood Ear Mushroom - good in Hot and Sour Soup but we left it.

No idea.... but probably an Aminita. 

I think this is the lead morph of the Eastern Red-backed Salamander

Another unknown...

On Sunday we took our big hike in the mountains about 2 hours north of Portland.  Old Speck Mountain is Maine's fifth highest peak at only 4160 feet, but it felt a lot higher than our mountains in NC.  This is because the alpine zone starts at much lower elevation in Maine.  I was targeting 4 lifers that live in that zone and I have dipped on previously.  White-winged Crossbill, Bicknell's Thrush, Black-backed Woodpecker and Spruce Grouse.  I ended up doing pretty well.  

The trail itself was a section of the Appalachian Trail and was pretty challenging with lots of steep steps through dense spruce fir forest so there was not much birding on the way up until the canopy starting opening up into the alpine zone.  I did however hear tons of vireos and thrushes singing but the wrong kinds.  

As we got about 3 miles into the hike my brother spotted our first Bicknell's.

Bicknell's Thrush - the lack of a reddish tail eliminates Hermit Thrush and the lack of buffy spectacles eliminates Swainson's Thrush.  Gray-cheeked are not found in these mountains in July.

Very similar in appearance to Gray-cheeked but maybe a little warmer toned on the cheek.  The eye ring is grayish in color.

After this sighting we continued up a little and the dog we had with us flushed a Spruce Grouse before I could get a visual but my brother saw it and said it was real dark like a male Spruce.  I hate to count a heard-only bird especially when the sound I heard was the flapping of the wings flying away from me.

At the peak, there was a fire tower and it was beautiful but like the usual idiot I am, I didn't take any scenery pics.

On the way back down I lagged behind the others to get more personal with a Bicknell's that I was hearing call.  I recorded the calls and got some nice close-up pics.  Recording here:

As I hiked down to catch up with the crew, I heard a slight tapping and followed it to the source.

Black-backed Woodpecker!!!

Was a shame that my brother was too far ahead on the trail and cell reception was poor so he missed it.

Although Maine is somewhat limited in species diversity, it makes up for it with quality.  Can't wait to go back and with the direct flights to Boston it may be sooner than later.  Maybe next time to Acadia in the fall to peep some leaves and look for Spruce Grouse and White-winged Crossbill.

Monday, July 5, 2021

Summer Doldrums (24-27Jun2021)

It's officially summer and the doldrums have set in.  Its taking a ton of chasing just to find one or two year birds and no-one seems to be finding anything rare with the exception of tons of Roseate Spoonbills being seen all over the state.  After my last huge dip for Black Rail at Cedar Island, I was looking for a quick win and headed to Brunswick County to pick up a Roseate Spoonbill.

I got to the nature trail a bit early and the tide had not pushed fully into the mudflats so the Spoonbill was not around.  These baby Green Herons and some more common birds kept me busy while I waited for the tide to fill in.

Finally as I was about to throw in the towel, he/she showed up.

Wood Stork

Round two of the Black Rail search began at Cedar Island pre-dawn on Saturday.  I walked about a mile on the causeway while Matthew W walked from the other direction.  Between the two of us we covered a couple miles of insect ridden marsh with no luck.

Matthew's jeans were covered in biting flies and the mosquitos were thick too.  The section of marsh where someone told me Black Rails were calling in previous weeks was totally burned up from a recent fire.  Some total idiot decided to light the marsh on fire to burn away some of the storm wrack in the middle of rail breeding season.  As if Black Rails already didn't have the cards stacked against them with global warming and habitat loss.  

Black Skimmer 

Least Bittern

After dipping on Black Rail a second time, we headed to Shackleford Banks to try for Reddish Egret.

Presumed Great Horned Owl being chased by a crow.  It didn't take too long to find some Reddish Egrets and we moved in to get closer.

Reddish Egret

First time I ever had three in one photo!

Marbled Godwit

On July 2nd I tried one more time at Cedar Island because this time the wind was north and I figured I would nab it.  No luck!  The biting insects were horrendous and it got light out too fast.  So I decided to salvage the drive and went surfing at Atlantic Beach.  We have had a pretty good stretch of waves lately.  Nothing big but super fun.

I have also been taking advantage of the slow birding to get out on my Stand Up Paddleboard.  On this outing at Fort Fisher I saw a giant Sea Turtle surface right next to my SUP.  I think it was a Loggerhead.

Finally, I have been joining my dogs to catch up on sleep and relax a little.  Looking forward to a trip up to Maine next weekend if Tropical Storm Elsa does ruin our flight plans.

Paco - he is getting so old and sleeps most of the day now but he can still run like the wind and catch a frisbee mid-air.

Rosa- she is also getting old and her Arthritis prevents her from doing much of anything but she still seems to enjoy life in general.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Oregon Trails Part 4 - Finale (04June2021)

In the morning I had the chance to take a couple hours and hunt some species that I needed for my life list.  When using the Target Species tool on eBird, I could see woodpeckers were my main target.  Most of the sightings for these species were north of Bend near Sisters.  But that was a good hour drive.  So I made the lazy and wrong call of going back to Shevlin Park as some of the species did have hits there.

Shevlin was definitely birdy, but I didn't have anything new.

Townsend's Solitaire.

Mountain Chickadee

Western Wood-pewee

Hairy Woodpecker 

A couple of hours evaporated into the ether and I headed back to pick up the family and rejoin the caravan for the ride back to Eugene.  Our in-laws had planned one more hike in the Cascades half way back and we also stopped one more time in Sisters for some coffee and so the ladies could check out some of the shops.  I searched hard for Pinyon Jays and Woodpeckers but came up empty again.

Red Crossbills were literally at my feet.  I had to back up to take these pics.

Pygmy Nuthatch

Lesser Goldfinch

Well that's it for the birds!  Our hike was at the Blue Pool which was a really awesome way to end the trip.  The Blue Pool is a place where a river bubbles up from underground and that makes it freezing cold.  The average temp is 37 degrees F.

Some folks were jumping in and I even saw one girl jump 40-50 feet from a cliff into the pool, so I just had to do it myself.  I jumped in and it's hard to describe how cold it really was.  I can now see how people have died simply because the body stops working when it hits those cold temps.  

I can't wait to go back to Oregon.  Maybe someday to live there.