Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Slow But Steady (11-19Jun2021)

I came very close to throwing the towel in on my year effort this past week but a couple events changed my mind.  Sometimes it's easier to keep going than it is to quit.  I was counting big on the June pelagic that I had signed up for so it was super disappointing when I didn't really add any new year birds, but now that I have had a couple weeks perspective I realize it was a pretty good trip.

I arrived on the OBX late at night as I had to work the day before the pelagic.  Since I only had a handful of hours to sleep, I thought it would be a waste to get a hotel and ended up sleeping in my truck at the Cape Point campground in Buxton.  Early in the pre-dawn hours, I ran into this recently fledged Chuck-will's-widow.  It allowed me to get out my truck to get a pic but not enough time to work on my camera settings to get a good night time picture.

Out at sea we picked up all the usual birds including this Great Shearwater.

But this Gervais's Beaked Whale was my only lifer for the day.

Even though Black-capped Petrels are a standard spring pelagic bird, they are hard to take for granted.

We had a bunch of Audubon's Shearwater but they were not super cooperative.

Wilson's Storm-Petrel

BC Petrel

We had Band-rumped Storm-Petrels on the previous pelagic but it was nice to bag a cooperative one for the photographed list.

Kate had thrown out a home-made chum block and the Band-rumped was loving on it.

Here is a funny photo because the larger Band-rumped on the left looks almost smaller than the Wilson's on the right.  It's always important to take size perception with a grain of salt as a bird's posture can be deceiving.

A nice crisp and freshly plumaged BC Petrel.


Cory's Shearwater - Scopoli's sub-species.

A better look at an Audubon's.

Great SW

Scopoli's - note the white underwing extends further in the primary shafts.

The dorsal surface is much lighter and appears scalloped. Can't wait for this one to be officially split.

After the pelagic I took a walk around the Salt Pond area hoping to find the Cinnamon Teals seen a week back, but no luck.  However, this family of King Rails as a nice consolation.

Presumed Black Rat Snake at Salt Pond.

I think this is a Diamond-backed Terrapin!  

Back home I decided to make one more attempt to get a year bird before I would throw in the towel and headed to Sunset Beach to try for Wood Stork, Reddish Egret and/or Roseate Spoonbill.  

Finally I bagged a Wood Stork far away in a tree across the Sunset Beach Twin Lakes overlook.

A Least Bittern was calling in the reeds and I managed to find it.

Baby gator!

I headed over to the East side of the beach to take the walk around the flats where I had had Reddish Egret in past years and instead ran into this unexpected White-rumped Sandpiper!

This is the first sharply plumaged WRSP I have had in the spring.  Usually I get them on their way back down and this one seemed kind of late.

This photo showing the trade-marked white rump would have been great if not for the plover photobomb.

Before long I realized this WRSP was missing a leg.  Birds frequently tuck one leg under so they appear one-legged but this one was hopping all over awkwardly while it was feeding.

So in the end, it was this one-legged WRSP that re-ignited the fire that kept me going for the year effort.

Blue Grosbeak back home at Fort Fisher.

Presumed Horace's Duskywing

Osprey with a nice catch

Clapper Rail at Wrightsville Beach

Least Tern


I made a couple attempts to get a Dickcissel locally by visiting some spots in Brunswick county where I had seen them in years past.  No luck there but I did see a couple old friends.

Indigo Bunting

Eastern Kingbird

Fly-by Wood Storks

Red-headed Woodpecker

This past weekend I decided to clean up a few of the birds I missed last time in the mountains before they stop calling.  Alder and Willow Flycatchers are super hard to ID when not calling so I wanted to bag them before they turn mute.

On the way up I stopped at the same place where Martina found a Brewer's Blackbird earlier in the year and picked up the breeding pair Dickcissels.



I made up to the Parkway late Friday night and tried 10-12 different places for Northern Saw-whet Owl with no luck.  I am starting to worry about that species.  Finally about midnight I crashed on the side of the road at Black Balsam Knob.  I woke early and quickly picked up a few birds I was missing for the year.

Canada Warbler early morning speed blur. 

The Alder Flycatchers at Black Balsam were plentiful and calling like crazy.  I have posted audio on my eBird checklist.

Matthew W joined me and we headed over to Richland Balsam to try for Red Crossbill.  Matthew is also doing a big year and he is on pace to smash the record so it was nice to pick up a species he was missing for the year and it ended up being a lifer for him!  

Actually Matthew heard and saw them flying overhead before I did and we tracked them downslope at Richland Balsam.  There were probably close to 100 of them calling from treetops in all directions but I put 65 on my list.

Meanwhile we started hearing Black-capped Chickadee songs.  Black-capped Chickadees are a bit problematic because they hybridize with the more common Carolina Chickadee and actually can sing the Fee Bee song as well.  So really you need to hear AND see them to positively ID them.  Plus you can really only expect to see them at high elevation.  Luckily for us, Richland Balsam is the highest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway at over 6000 ft elevation.

The first individual we saw was singing the BC song but looked more like a Carolina.  The black "bib" was fairly neat looking and the tertial feathers didn't have much white edging which is somewhat obscured in this photo.

So I called this a hybrid simply because it was singing the song and hanging out with Black-capped.

This individual checked all the boxes for Black-capped.  Singing BC song, Check. Ragged lower margins of the black bib, Check. Greater area of white cheek extending further around nape, Check. White edging prominent in the tertial feathers, Check.  

I had been planning to head up to Clingman's Dome to get a bonafide Black-capped, but this one had me feel comfortable so I was able to head home early.  The audio of the song is posted to my eBird checklist.


On the way down the mountain I managed to pick up a female Scarlet Tanager for my photographed list.  For some reason I have had a hard time getting a male Scarlet photographed this year.

Scarlet Tanager

My last stop before heading home was to Mills River to pick up Willow Flycatcher.  It was pretty hot and after noon so I was worried I would not find one but finally near the bridge I heard the "Wit" call and was able to triangulate onto one Willow.

Willow Flycatcher almost looking like a Least in this picture.

A more fitting picture.

And here it is in a normal posture looking decidedly Willow/Alder but based on the call I heard and the habitat I can confirm it is a Willow for sure.

Phew! A very nice trip and I am back on track for a good year.  I will not beat Matthew but that's ok as I am going for a photographed list which is a different ballgame and to be honest I don't have the ability to do nearly as many pelagics.  I wish him luck and hope he smashes the record.  As for me, I just hope I beat the previous year's record.

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