Sunday, August 30, 2015

Cottonmouth is Bad, Goatsucker is Good (30Aug2015)

I had two target birds today both of which I missed.  However, a trip with John and company is always fun.  We started at North River Farms bright and early.  Last year we had 30-40 American Golden Plover in the plowed fields.  This year there is no freshly plowed fields and in fact all the fields were way overgrown.  Ugh...

This American Kestrel was missing a big part of his flight feathers.  Amazing.  A plane with this chunk missing would be a goner.

American Kestrel

I need to send this pic to :

Check out his Birds Taking Dumps section.

John almost stepped on this Cottonmouth!

Pretty camouflaged if you take the mouth out of the equation.

The birding was so slow we started looking at butterflies.  Actually there was alot of birds but nothing new for me.

Red-spotted Purple (Brush-footed butterfly family)?

Female Clouded Sulphur

So at around 9:30 Steve H and myself decided to head over to Cape Lookout.  A Lark Sparrow was reported there last week and since then two have been spotted.  I only had 45 minutes since I promised the wife to be home in a reasonable time today.

Steve pointed out what he thought could be a sparrow and when I looked up instead of the sparrow I saw this silhouette which I immediately knew would be a goatsucker!!!

A closer look revealed.....

Common Nighthawk

Not a bad consolation.  We never did find the Lark Sparrows.

I stopped briefly at Willow Pond at Harker's Island and was murdered by Mosquitos.  At one point I couldn't see 2 feet in front of me due to the dark cloud that descended on me.  It will be a miracle if I don't get some disease like Chikungunya or worse.

Little Blue Heron

Great times.

Friday, August 28, 2015

A Genuine Baird's Sandpiper (27Aug2015)

I woke up yesterday with insomnia.  I am not not sure if it was thoughts of backlog at work or visions of the second confirmed report of a Baird's Sandpiper in NC this year.  There have been others but I believe the ones in Durham are the only photographed and confirmed sightings.  I would have jammed up that night to go find the bird but I had a bunch of early morning teleconferences and not the type I could handle while looking for a bird.  So I started work early (3am) and worked through lunch when finally I convinced myself to go chase this elusive bird.

3 hours later I was at the RR grade overlooking Ellerbe Creek and lucky for me two local birder brothers were there.  After about 45 minutes of birding with them, I split up with them and continued to bird some of the mud flats on the far side of the cove.  On a whim I turned around and saw the brothers frantically waving their arms!  They had the bird about 400 yards distant.  Can you picture in your mind's eye a grown man running across mud with a scope, a pair of binoculars and a camera?  Well sadly that is what my life has come to.  That being said, I could be smoking crack or gambling my life savings.

Disclosure, the following shots were via digiscoping hence poor quality.

This shot shows a nice comparison to a Least Sandpiper.  The Baird's SP is the bigger bird in the back.

Baird's SP - the bib is not as extensive as a Pectoral SP and more buffy with less defined streaking.  The wings are way longer than the tail which you can see here tucked between the two wings.  It's just one of those birds that once you see it you wonder how you had even questioned other misidentified birds.  For example, before we saw this bird, I had been questioning peeps and Pectorals as possible Baird's.

Look at that buffy rich coloration, pure gold!  Also note dark legs.  Pectorals and Least SPs have yellow legs.

Look at those primaries!  Gives it an elongated and tapered look.

Also important to note, the silvery back with dark markings.

The chase was so worth it! Now I am ready for the festivities that will ensue.  My older son is 10 this weekend!  Yes he was born on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.  In fact both he and Katrina happened on the same year!  I remember seeing the news footage while waiting for him to arrive.  Where has the time gone, before I know it he will be driving.

Great times.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Knuckleheads (23-26Aug2015)

Local birding has been the call for past several days and things are starting to pick up.

Sunday was some casual birding from the car with Harry at Ft. Fisher.  Tons of shorebirds and even more yahoos.

This little tern gave us a little pause because it had a dark bill and was lacking a strong carpal bar.

I could almost see a white "window" in the inner most primary which would be good for Roseate Tern but we consulted with the experts and decided it was a Common in some sort of intermediate plumage.  The above photo was tricky because the right wing was tricking me into thinking this bird had a long tail.  However, Harry's photos show a shorter tail.

I have combed through about 400-500 Black-bellied Plover in the past 4 days and have not found one American Golden, in fact I don't think I have ever seen one on a beach but I guess some people have all the luck.  I think I have seen 4-5 different reports of AMGP found on beaches this year.  I will continue to look at sod farms or North River for mine.

Caspians are all over the beach lately.

Monday morning I visited Ft. Fisher monument to see if any warblers were coming through.

The bucks from last year were on the monument as usual and with more points to boot. However, there was not much going on so I headed to the Basin Trail to meet up with some Knuckleheads.

Sorry I am not a Herp guy, but I would guess Leopard Frog?

There was a huge party of egrets at the pond next to the Basin Trail.  Hundreds of them.

Blue-winged Teal always seem to get flagged by eBird even though I regularly see them here in the late summer.

If you have not seen the Life series on PBS (Netflix has it), watch it! Nothing better than David Attenborough narrating over some of the best images you have ever seen.  One of the episodes has a cool bit on Monarchs.  Here is one fueling up for the long trip to Central America.

I was able to get one of the Knuckleheads this life bird - Seaside Sparrow.

Horrible pic but we had 6-7 Yellow-crowned Night-herons working the mud flats.  I have never seen that many around here. Bills were stubby and black and legs were long and extended past tail in flight. They just had the Yellow-crown "jizz" despite all being juvenile.

Tricolored Heron - Erla calls these Louisiana Herons so she must have been birding a few years.

The Knuckleheads - a nice group of ladies from the Triangle area.

In the evening I headed back to the Spit.  I love driving on the beach with my redneck truck (it has a 3 inch lift) and defying the redneck stereotype by pulling up and setting up my scope instead of a lawn chair and a six pack (not that there is anything wrong with that either).

This time I pulled up to the first cut and immediately saw an interesting bird in view.  I was getting ready to get out and put the scope on him and some other dude pulled up and starting asking me questions about my truck.  I was very worried that he was going to scare the bird off but luckily I was able to shake the guy off and was setting up when who rolls up other than some genuine knuckleheads - Harry and Greg.  Well Greg and I definitely have Rarophyllia as some folks call it, so we immediately tried to make this bird into something better than it was.  Rarophyllia is a terminal disease in which the afflicted tries to make every bird into a rare bird.  It was either a Pectoral Sandpiper, or it was something really rare - a Sharp-tailed SP.  Well we knew it was a Pectoral but whats the fun in just calling it and not giving it a good study.

The bird was refusing to turn around, so we studied the bill and legs which lead us on the goose chase. Sharp-tailed and Pectorals look strikingly similar.  They both have orange/yellow legs and a similarly sized bill.  Above photo taken through scope.

When it finally did turn around it had a proper Pectoral "bib" and little of the buffy coloring that blends in with the bib on a Sharp-tailed. It also lacked the more striking rufous cap of a Sharp-tailed.

Pectoral SP - for those of you that Poo-Poo our rarophyllia, keep in mind that Greg found the first state record of a Sharp-tailed SP in NC at this very spot.

Although we agreed this was a Pectoral, it was not very typical.  It was kind of dumpy looking and the bib was not totally clean having some streaking on flanks.

Next evening Harry and I went to the spit again.  this time we used our Rarophyllic powers to try and turn a Least Sandpiper into a stint.

Least Sandpiper - poor light can lead yellow legs to look Black.

Least Sandpiper - a little better light showed legs had some yellow color.

Another Pectoral in center of frame.  Decidedly a different bird than the day before.

Finally this morning I headed back to the Basin to finish up some unfinished business with the Northern Waterthrush that has been hanging out at the beginning of the trail.  It was still very dark hence the poor pics.

Prairie Warblers kept distracting me.

Northern Waterthrush - he had very dark and dense streaking on breast and throat.  The Louisiana has more of a window in the throat.

Picture taken through many laters of bush, but shows the dense streaking all the way up through throat. Hope to get a better picture, but just in case this will do.

Back on the Basin Trail I saw the Yellow-crowned NHs from earlier in the week.

And this time I had an adult confirming our ID on the immatures.

On the trail there was a whole pile of these dead little turtles, not sure what kind.  Surely they are not sea turtles?  If so they were way off course.

Great times.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Pelagic Pleasure Cruise (Two Boobies are better than One) 21Aug2015

Yesterday was my last hurrah for pelagics this season.  I love them to death but they are not cheap. When you take into account the drive up and if you throw in a hotel (which I did not this time) you can end up paying a pretty penny.  However, they are worth it and people come from all over the country to get in on the action so I think a 6 hour drive is the least I can do.  I drove Thursday afternoon by way of the Southern route and made a brief pit stop at Mattamuskeet before dark.  There were some good mudflats at the entrance impoundment but I did not turn up anything good hence the lack of pictures. I arrived in Buxton pretty late and by the time I had my Chicken Parm at Angelo's it was pouring rain and thundering.  So much for camping.  I ended up sleeping in my truck which was not fun because it was humid enough that I had to crack a window for circulation then ended up with mosquitoes all over me.  Finally I had to use a strategy which I employed last time during my near death experience at Elk Knob but to opposite effect.  Instead of heating the car up and turning it off to sleep only to wake up frozen and having to repeat, I was turning on the AC to get the cab cool then turning it off and sleeping only to wake up as a sweaty mess and having to repeat.  So needless to say it was not a great experience, but it was probably better than paying $150 for a hotel which I only needed for 5-6 hours.

And so it began....  The trip started with a harrowing trip out the shoaled inlet.

Audubon's Shearwater - It did not take long before we found some good numbers of shearwaters loafing on the ocean surface. This was one of the first pelagics I have taken where the slack wind was making for good viewing of shearwaters on the water.  That being said, conversely it was not a good day for seeing these birds do what they do best.  There was a lot of flapping which is not what you want to see them doing.

Great Shearwaters - surprisingly the first time I have seen them this year.  And they were everywhere.

In the typical way of pelagic sightings there someone shouted Brown Booby and there was much confusion and people scrambling to see the immature booby flying off in the distance.  It was not the best look and of coarse I had no pictures, but a good bird none the less.  It appeared to be an immature bird - brown all over and a darker hood extending to wing line.

The only Jaeger encounter we had all day was a Pomarine hassling some poor defenseless Audubon's Shearwaters.

Then Brian came over the loudspeaker in his amiable way and said "Comon guys, whats that big white bird over there?".  Not sure if he was admonishing the spotters or all of us, but he was right.  How in the world did we all miss the big white bird sitting in the middle of a shearwater raft?  It's amazing how with over 24 people on board Brian sitting in the wheel house is usually the first one to find the good birds.  But then again he has had some practice.

Masked Booby!!!  I know that no one cares when I say this, but this was the last of the Sulids for me. I have Blue-footed from California, Red-footed from Costa Rica, Brown from a bunch of places and of course plenty of Gannets.

This bird was a somewhat dingy looking sub-adult but hey beggars can't be choosers.

He stayed with us for a good 10-15 minutes.

Great Shearwater - my Peterson's app still calls this bird Greater Shearwater.  My Sibley app calls it Great.  I agree with Sibley, it is a Great bird.

Cory's Shearwater - the most abundant bird of the day.

White-faced Storm-petrel!!!!!  Just kidding.  Black Tern.

Great Shearwater showing his diagnostic arm pits (axillaries for you bird buffs).

Bridled Tern!!  Apparently 9 times out of 10, a dark backed tern perched on flotsam is a Bridled.  Conversely if you see a dark backed tern sitting on the water (not on flotsam) it probably is a Sooty.

Black-capped were few and far between on this trip and they were not very obliging.

The most surprising thing for me was the low numbers of Wilson's SPs.  We had zero Band-rumped too which was a bummer as I am still lacking a picture for the year.

Cory's Shearwater

At one point we had about 7 Bridled Tern circling the boat.

Audubon's Shearwater

All in all an excellent trip with one exception.  On the way home I was being tailgated by a Semi (truck not plover) in the Alligator NWR area and so I sped up to put some distance between us.  I was exhausted and did not notice the cop behind me.  I usually do not speed or at least not much and I have not had a ticket in many years (over 10 at least).  Alligator is super straight so I don't get the 55 speed limit, maybe in case of bear crossing?  So I was really upset, and as my wife says I do not handle the police well.  Usually I act very annoyed and give them attitude which is not a good thing.  I think this is from my early days when I was arrested a couple times, but we won't go there.  I do respect police and value their contribution to society, but sometimes I just think they can be a little harassing which I think is true of most people in a position of power.

Anyway once he shone his flashlight in my face, he guessed right away that I was drunk.  I was sunburned, had bloodshot eyes and was completely exhausted so I understand his suspicion.  After checking my registration and license he had me get out and go through the whole rigmarole.  Breathalyzer, Stand with feet together and watch the finger (which by the way was very stubby).  I was a little worried when he had me stand with my feet together because I was still unsteady from having sealegs but somehow I made it without falling on my face.  He asked me a bunch of questions about what I had been drinking or smoking and I told him I was just a mess from being on a pelagic all day.  As soon as I said it I thought to myself "you idiot, this guy does not know what a pelagic is". However, I passed all the tests and explained I was bird watching on a boat all day.  He instructed me to get back in my car.  I was commiserating quietly thinking the worst and he came back and let me off with a warning!! Wow what luck.  Maybe he was a closet birdwatcher.  My record for NC remains spotless. Thank the lord because my wife would have killed me if I made our insurance go up.

The rest of the ride home was uneventful despite my extreme exhaustion.

Great times!