Saturday, August 27, 2016

Shore Birding Galore (14-26Aug2016)

I love a good shore bird....

Garbled Modwit and friends on Ft Fisher Spit

Yellow Warblers are coming through.  This one was at Lock and Dam.  Once again no shorebirds at Oakland Sod Farms.  I always dip there.

I believe this is a Great Blue Skimmer female.  Wow, dragonfly ID is not easy or at least I don't know where to start.  That being said, birding was like this when I first started.  So humbling.

I believe this is a Twelve Spotted Skimmer female.  The male would have white spots in addition to black on wings.

Last weekend I joined a bunch of friends to Ophelia Inlet and nearby flats to look for rare shorebirds. When the boat captain dropped us off at the South end of Ophelia Inlet, I immediately found a Long-billed Curlew.  Probably the same one from March of this year.

Beautiful colors on this bird.  He/she seems to be molting quite heavily.

We saw hundreds of thousands of shorebirds and I should have taken a couple landscape pictures to give you an idea for the shear numbers....but I didn't.

American Avocets - Ophelia Inlet

We re-found the curlew later on a different island.

Laughing Gulls are starting to look snazzy

The middle of the week work was driving me insane as I have been covering for a bunch of people on vacation and we had some turn over which always makes my job stressful so once I was caught up on emails and had a gap in my TC schedule, I decided to head up to Mattamuskeet and try for some Ricky Birds.  For those of you uninitiated, Ricky Birds are rare birds that a local North Carolina birder with the first name of Ricky has found.  Ricky found a Wilson's Phalarope, Baird's Sandpiper and an American Golden Plover last weekend at Lake Landing on the Eastern side of Mattamuskeet.  I need all three for my year list and Wilson's Phalarope would be a NC bird for me so it was a no brainer.  I looked through a mess load of shorebirds for over 2 hours and wasn't finding any of my three targets, but persistence pays and I finally found the Wilson's Phalarope way out in the middle of the impoundment.

This is what it looked like through my 400mm lens so this can give you an idea of how far these birds were.  A scope was essential.  Unfortunately my digi-scoping set up is terrible and usually cropped photos through my 400mm end up better.  The Phalarope was easily IDed by behavior alone.  It was feeding in a puddle like a lunatic, turning in circles and moving around much more actively than the nearby yellowlegs and other shorebirds.

Heavily cropped image showing Wilson's Phalarope in the center of the frame.  I know this photo is crap and I probably should not count this on my photographed list but I make the rules and I want to include it.  Don't worry I am not breaking any records this year anyhow.  You can see here the white face, gray back and size relative to the Black-bellied Plover on the right and Semi-palmated Plover in the foreground.  I was struck on it's size which is significantly bigger than the Red-necked Phalaropes I saw last weekend on the pelagic.  I need to get me a video camera with a good zoom for birds like this where behavior is so diagnostic.

Palamedes on left and Viceroy on right.


WTF?  Weird looking egret.  Legs are neither black or yellow and lores are not convincing either.

Presumed Orange Sulphur


The above butterflies distracted enough that I stayed long enough to find target #2 - American Golden Plover.

American Golden on left and Black-bellied on right. Best field mark is how far the black extends.  On American Golden it goes all the way to vent.

Black Swallowtail

Eastern Pondhawk?

Shun called me Thursday letting me know he found a Buff-breasted Sandpiper at Rich Inlet on the North side of Figure Eight Island.  Luckily he was willing to bring me on Friday after work.

In the end we did not find the Buff-breasted but this Snowy Plover was a nice consolation.

Nice comparison between a Piping Plover on left and Snowy Plover on right.  Leg color and bill structure are the best field marks.

I have George this weekend while Luke and mom are at a soccer tourney in SC so I probably will not get out birding much.  I am hoping for another mountains trip next weekend.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Birding is Hard (5-13-Aug-2016)

I have birded really hard this past week and only managed one year bird.  But even so I had a good time doing it. I started at Wrightsville Beach while my kids were in surf camp.

Black Terns are better looking when in adult breeding plumage but these were so cooperative that I couldn't pass up the opportunity.


Some immature Common Terns kept me on my toes.  I have been looking for Roseate Terns with no luck.

Black Skimmer

Black-bellied Plovers

After someone posted Black-bellied Whistling-ducks in Brunswick County I just had to go chase them.  Turns out they were Wood Ducks, but I brought my family and had a good time anyhow.

This was the biggest Alligator I have ever seen.  I was too lazy to change my lens so here he is from 10 feet away with a 400mm lens.

Mom and Son #1 and Lee Buck Rd.

On the Ft. Fisher Spit later in the week I had thousands of shorebirds but nothing rare.

BB Plover and Red Knots

A nice three day weekend started on Friday with me getting up a tad late and missing dawn at Cedar Island Causeway where I was hoping to get Barn Owl or Black Rail.

There were plenty of Least Bitterns still hanging around.

This Clapper Rail was very accommodating allowing me to try various camera settings.

This was trying some of the Manual settings.

Sometimes black and white is the way to go.

Down at the ferry terminal it was more of the usual suspects.

Presumed Short-billed Dowitcher defying the salt water stereotype and hunting in the fresh water pond.

The horses at Cedar Island are not wild/feral but they do look it.

Red Knot with Semi-palmated friend.

Black Skimmer

Some people's pot of gold are other people's gull flocks.    These Laughing Gulls were at the terminus of a full rainbow.  Unfortunately rainbows never photograph well especially with a 400mm lens.

It was so hot this day, I was a sweaty mess by the time I got back to my truck and got on line for the ferry to Ocracoke and it was only 9am.  Outside Ocracoke I saw my good buddy the Reddish Egret but the photos were distant and crappy.

On Hatteras I found some nice Tern flocks to comb through but only came up with the usuals including these Common Terns.

Young Common stretching his wings for me to study.

Some of the juveniles had some of the Roseate Tern traits but none of them were a good match for all the traits.

For example this one looked to have a dark bill but his primaries were too dark.

It was so hot and the water in these shallows had so little movement that it was scalding hot.  I waded out to where the flock was and could not believe how hot the water was.  I would say 90s at least.  All the birds were "panting" to let heat escape out of their mouths.

Common Tern amongst the Royals.

This tree frog was interesting so I tried to identify it.  I thought to myself that the black spot on its side must be a field mark so it took me a while to recognize it was probably just a piece of dirt or an insect. Anyway, apparently if the frog is green and looks like a tree frog, its a Green Treefrog.  The frog people must have more sense when naming critters than the bird people do.

At my camping spot just as the sun was setting, I was truly puzzled by this bird because of a light artifact.  It appeared to have a clear breast all the way up to his/her chin which ruled out Pectoral SP. However the only similarly sized bird with same bill length was Sharp-tailed SP!! A Mega!  Of course Sharp-tailed had other field marks which this bird did not have but the optimist side of my brain was over-riding the logic side.

I side-winded over a bit and took some more pics of which I studied and noted that the bib was there all along but was not showing well because of light refraction or some other anomaly.  Normally I would have been happy to see a Pectoral but now I was frustrated at this bird.

After erecting my tent and lying down on my picnic table to look for shooting stars in the predicted meteor shower, I was joined by a drunk fellow from Alabama who after 2 minutes of meeting me told me his life story including the recent death of his father.  He actually was pretty nice and interesting so it was not as bad as I initially thought.  Much to the chagrin of my wife, I am not much of one for socializing so having a stranger come over and talk to me for an hour is something I usually try and avoid.  However, I enjoyed this guy's time and did not try and give him any hints.  He eventually ran out of beer and bid me adieu.  The night sky was beautiful and I did see a bunch of shooting stars although it was not the "shower" that I anticipated.

Sunset at the Buxton Campground.

Sunrise before leaving Hatteras Inlet on the Stormy Petrel II.

Yes, once again I signed up to punish myself on a 12 hour pelagic boat trip on the high seas.  I say punish because most sane people would not subject themselves to 12 hours of tossing and turning with barely any protection from the hot sun all to see possibly one or two year birds.  Yet the boat was full of like minded people including some of NC's finest like Ed C, Jeff L and Lucas B who were the spotters.

Spoiler alert, we did not see any megas or life birds for me so it was a tad bit of a disappointment but I know the drill by now.  You have to put in your time on these boats to eventually get lucky with the rarities.

I thought for sure I got some decent photos of a Band-rumped Storm-petrel but apparently the only in focus one was this ass shot.

Sooty Tern!!! There was my year bird and we ended up seeing 5 of them.

Nice dark back.  I also learned that they typically fly and forage higher up than the Bridled.  I already knew that Bridled are more likely to be found perched on flotsam.

Leatherback Sea Turtle was a nice find.  These are the largest turtles in the world.  One of the largest specimens found weighed in at over 2000 pounds!!

Audubon's Shearwaters were plentiful and offered decent looks.

Black-capped Petrels are always good to watch.  As long as you get one BC Petrel the trip was worth it.

Cory's Shearwater

Bridled Tern sitting on a large piece of bamboo.

Finally on the way back in we ran into a flock of Red-necked Phalarope.

Goodbye my feathered pelagic friends.  I don't know when I will see you again unless we have a hurricane and you take shelter on our lakes and shorelines.  I hope for your sake that is not the case.

Fall migration is coming..... Are you ready?  I am.