Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Buff-breasted Sandpiper (Calidris subruficollis) - 07Sep2014 and 01Sep2016

Birds that are only found in North Carolina during migration are good birds.  Absence makes the heart grow fonder.  The Buff-breasted Sandpiper has the added bonus that it mostly migrates down the center of the country and we only see a small fraction come through NC and in fact the Cornell website does not show migration through NC at all.  So if a Buff-breasted is sighted, I am on it.

This particular bird was actually not a chased bird.  We found it blindly at the Cedar Island Ferry Terminal in Carteret County and it was practically tame.  Its too bad that I only had my old crusher at that point.  With my new camera, this bird would have been immortalized.

Update 01Sep2016 - Check out these more recent pics from Fort Fisher Spit.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Eastern Screech-owl (Megascops asio) - 03Nov2013 & 14Jan2017 & 21Apr2017

I might as well continue on the owl thread now that I have started.  The Eastern Screech-owl is a bird I encounter quite often.  In fact I have them in my back yard.  The rub is that they almost never show themselves unless you find a nest box and I think those shots are usually unsatisfying.  So when I found this bird in Carolina Beach State Park and it somehow let me snap a few pics, I was overjoyed.  Although the picture is not crisp due to poor light, I kind of like the ethereal quality of it anyhow.

And here is a red morph from 14Jan2017 in my back yard in Wilmington, NC.

Here is a red morph in broad daylight at CB State Park in April 2017.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) - 10Jan2014

The winter of 2014 was an "incursion" year for Snowy Owls and I was not about to miss my opportunity.  Most were sighted on the OBX, but one was seen on Sunset Beach so I was there first thing in the morning to chase it.  These incursions are thought to be a result of banner years for lemmings up north.  If the owls have a plentiful supply of lemmings, they can have successful broods of more than one chick.  Then when these juveniles get old enough to hunt for themselves, they have to wander off as the older more wise birds have all the good turf staked out.  Or maybe they just have wanderlust.

These shots were taken with my old camera set up, so you can imagine the bird was particularly obliging.

Look at those feet!

I was watching him for so long that the weather and clouds were changing offering different perspectives.  Most of the shots were awful due to backlit low hanging clouds, but the clouds abated for a little bit and I managed these shots.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia) - 06Nov2015 and 27Feb2016

The Burrowing Owl is a bird that has only been seen a couple times in North Carolina in the last 30 years and I think one of those was a dead bird presumed to have been assisted by a truck's grill.  So when I was lucky enough to be contacted by someone that had a lead on a Burrowing Owl at Masonboro Island off Wrightsville Beach, I was ecstatic that he called me.  We motored over first thing in the morning and fanned out.  There was 6 of us and we were following a tip from someone that had seen it the day before.  It didn't take long.  The bird flushed right in front of me and I managed this shot before it landed about 75 yards away.

The above shot ended up being my best because we kept our distance as this was clearly a bird on high alert.  Unfortunately the person(s) that found the bird preferred that we did not publicize the bird so I had to keep it under wraps until eventually it got out.  I understand the view that the bird should be kept undisturbed, but this bird chose a pretty high traffic location and most birders are way more sensitive to it's plight than the hundreds of surfers and fishermen stomping through the area.

Update: I went back in February and re-found the owl and got some better shots.

Below I have added a picture from Arizona where Burrowing Owls hang out on window casings.

Common Eider (Somateria mollissima) - 14Jan2018 and 19Dec2015

The Common Eider is a bird I know well.  My brother lives in Maine so I have seen the many variations in plumage these birds offer.  Its rare to get an adult male in NC, but here is one from the Outer Banks, NC in 2018.

Here is a more typical brown immature male from Wrightsville Beach.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Red Knot (Calidris canutus) - 15Dec2015

In 2003, scientists projected that the American sub-species, Rufa, might become extinct as early as 2010.  Thankfully this dire prediction has not come true and I see them quite regularly in NC.  Many think the bird's decline has been due to over-harvesting of Horseshoe Crabs in the Chesapeake Bay.  The Red Knot stops there during migration to fuel up on the crab roe.

This photo was taken on the South end of Wrightsville Beach, an especially confiding individual.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Canvasback (Aythya valisineria) - 13Dec2015

The Canvasback is the largest duck in North America, and probably the best.  It's latin name comes from the fact that its primary diet on breeding grounds up north is Vallisneria americana which is an aquatic plant.  It's common name is surprisingly intuitive, the white back is the color of a blank canvas.  However, I call it by a more affectionate name.... a  Carbunkled Snorfblatt.

Monday, November 23, 2015

LeConte's Sparrow - Ammodramus leconteii (16Nov2014)

Is there a better North American Sparrow than LeConte's Sparrow? If there is, I don't know it.  I am not sure how to explain the LeConte's Sparrow's superiority other than to say it just looks good.  This particular bird was found at North River Farms in Carteret County, NC and was especially obliging.  This is a species that usually does not show itself well, preferring to run along the ground under heavy grasses.  So although these shots were with my old camera set up and under less than ideal lighting conditions, I am just not sure I will have better opportunities in the future.

Look at that purplish nape!

I looked up who LeConte was and why he got so many good birds named after him, and it looks as though Audubon was just being nice and naming this particular sparrow after a buddy who was really an entomologist.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Limpkin - Aramus guarauno (29Jul2015)

You have about the same odds seeing a Limpkin in North Carolina as you do getting struck by lightning.  However, on the 29th day of July, the unlikely happened.  Of course I had help, the bird was found by someone else the day before.  I have seen Limpkins in Florida and the Bahamas but seeing a bird that is not expected in your state just kicks it up another notch.  Another thing that made this bird even sweeter, I had to haul my kayak up about 4 hours west, then kayak up a river for a couple hours.

When I got to the spot the bird was reported, it was no where to be seen.  I spoke to a local and he said he knew of small creek about a quarter mile up the river that could be good habitat for the Limpkin.  Since I have already spent half a day on the bird, I figured I might as well try. So I paddled up river. A quarter of a mile turned into a mile but I found the creek and eventually spotted the bird.  These kinds of adventures are a major part of why finding birds is so much fun.

Arctic Tern - Sterna paradisaea (16May2015)

Have you ever noticed the contradiction between the common name and latin name for Acrtic Tern?  Maybe some folks consider the arctic paradise, but it seems like a reach.  Maybe the latin name comes from the fact that these birds have perfected the Endless Summer.  For example, the Greenland population spends summer in Greenland and then migrates to the Antarctic for the Southern Hemisphere summer.  And you thought Hudsonian Godwits were the kings of migration.  Arctic Terns have been shown to migrate 56,000 miles in one year!  They are a true pelagic tern, only landing to breed, or maybe just to say hi to a birder in NC as this bird did at North Topsail Beach.

The bird was obviously exhausted but looked pretty healthy and did go back out to forage in the surf while I was there.

Note the slender blood red bill with no black tip.

Also note the short red legs.

Great bird!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Greater White-fronted Goose - Anser albifrons (02May2015)

Colloquially known as the "specklebelly", the Greater White-fronted Goose is good bird in North Carolina.  They are usually seen every year, but are few and far in between.  So when I received a report of a fairly tame specklebelly at Bur-Mil Park in Greensboro, I was on it like  cheap suit.

Of course this was my old camera, so I can only improve my shots of this species although this bird was especially confiding.

I can see the reason for the name.  I don't think domestics have the same belly patterns.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck - Dendrocygna autumnalis (19Jul2015)

I cannot think of a more cartoonish bird than a Black-bellied Whistling-duck.  My first exposure to them was in Houston, TX.  When I started birding I used to have to go to Houston quite a bit for work, and when I saw BBWDs in the city parks, I figured they were domestic birds, much like Mallards and barnyard geese.  I soon learned BBWDs do move around and are totally wild in Houston despite being fond on suburban lawns and parks.

This summer we had a group of 3 BBWDs come to Twin Lakes in Sunset Beach, NC.  I was not satisfied with the looks I had from across the lake so I found the house where the birds were and knocked on the door.  The irony was that these people didn't even really know what the ducks were and did not think they were a big deal.  In fact they were looking at me like I was the anomaly!  My family was in the car waiting to go to the beach and the people in the house were looking at me funny so I managed some quick shots and only one of them came out decent.

 We shall meet again soon my orange billed friend and I will crush you like you deserve to be crushed.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Royal Tern - Thalasseus maximus (13-Apr-2013)

Although there are bigger terns (Caspian for one), the Royal Tern is truly royalty among Sternidae.  Are they named that way because they are large and in charge?  Or is it because in breeding plumage they have a neat cap/crown?  Either way the name fits.  The below photos were taken on the East end of Ocean Isle, NC.  However, they could have been taken anywhere on the coast as these birds are distributed all over the place including the West Coast of Africa.

Royal Terns are experts at synchronized roosting. 

They are also loud as heck and even a half deaf birder can hear them.

In breeding plumage they are about as handsome as any other tern out there.  We have quite a few nesting sites in NC.