Outer Banks Weekend – Feb. 5-7th

By Brenda Chase

From February 5th- 7th a few of our Fredericksburg Bird Club members participated in the VSO Outer Banks Weekend in North Carolina. Lee Adams was one of the trip leaders and Sally Knight and I took part in the various outings. Since the weather turned out to be rather brutal (a description uttered more than once) a few other club members changed their minds about participating. But it was worth battling the cold, wind, and rain because of the great birds we got to see.

Sally and I actually drove down on Thursday in hopes of birding a few spots along the way. Rain and wind foiled that plan, but upon our arrival in the Outer Banks we decided to drive down to Oregon Inlet and Pea Island to check out the situation. While our car birding was hampered by rain and mist we did get to see our first snow geese of the season. Other highlights were American avocets, white pelicans, a large flock of tree swallows, boat-tailed grackles, and a lone juvenile white ibis. As darkness closed in, we settled into our accommodations with hopes of better weather on Friday.

Snow Geese

Snow Geese

Alas, that hope was dashed when we arose to the roar of the wind and the sight of whitecaps on the sound. The VSO leaders delayed our start for Lake Mattamuskeet by an hour waiting for some of the weather to clear out. As we drove west, the rain lightened up and we were treated to hundreds of snow geese in the fields. Raptors didn’t seem to mind the weather as we got glimpses of a bald eagle, a red-shouldered hawk, a harrier, kestrels, black and turkey vultures. Tundra swans, white pelicans, great egrets, and great blue herons also were on the move as were red-winged blackbirds in the fields and robins everywhere.

When we arrived at Lake Mattamuskeet the rain finally let up and we enjoyed good looks at a variety of ducks—American black, northern shoveler, gadwall, ring-necked, ruddy, mallard, American wigeon, northern pintail, and both green- and blue-winged teal. Flocks of American coot not only hang out in the lake but enjoy crossing the road to get to water-filled ditches. They also seem to know they have the right of way!

American Bittern

American Bittern

Thankfully, the rain stopped, but we ate our picnic lunches in our cars due to the cold. Afterwards we drove through more wooded areas and as the sun came out and the temperature warmed a bit, the birds became more active. Pine and palm warblers were spotted along with the ubiquitous yellow-rumps. An Eastern phoebe, common yellowthroat, ruby-crowned kinglets and at least 5 blue-gray gnatcatchers made appearances. The best was yet to come, however. As we neared the end of our time at the lake, an American bittern was sighted right out in the open! He seemed to think he was invisible and appeared completely unconcerned with the throng of birders as he stalked food in the water, and even shifted his weight back and forth from one foot to another as if he was doing a little dance. We enjoyed watching him for quite a while until someone sighted a sora. The entire group turned its attention to this skulking little creature. Finally, we tore ourselves away and headed back east.

On our way, Forster’s terns, cattle egrets, wild turkeys, a yellow-bellied sapsucker, and belted kingfisher were reported. Next, we arrived at Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. We planned to drive around the impoundments before stopping at dusk in the hopes of seeing some short-eared owls. Our drive produced more of the same ducks we had seen earlier plus a Northern flicker, downy, and two pileated woodpeckers giving us a show at the top of a tall snag. Suddenly, we spied a mammal moving through the grasses on the top of a dyke. It

Alligator River

Alligator River

turned out to be a bobcat! Stealthily, it made its way down the dyke to the edge of the water, and then, to our surprise it swam to the woods on the other side and disappeared. What a treat! We continued our drive and then, as the light diminished, we parked our cars and scanned the fields for short-eared owls. As we waited someone spotted a covey of quail—northern bobwhites. They scurried around the field looking quite busy. We enjoyed watching them for a while, but as darkness set in we realized it was not to be an owl night for us. So, we headed back to Nags Head and a scrumptious dinner at Tortugas Lie.

Saturday morning brought sunshine but it remained cold and windy. (I don’t know why we were expecting anything else in February!) Off the balcony at the Comfort Inn in south Nags Head gulls frolicked on the beach, on the water, and in the air. Great black-backed, lesser black-backed, Bonaparte’s, ring-billed, and herring gulls all made appearances. Beautiful gannets also flew by. We then headed out to spend the morning at both the north and south sides of Oregon Inlet and Pea Island. At those locations, new birds for the weekend were western willet, red-breasted merganser, hooded merganser, common loon, red-throated loon, purple sandpiper, American oystercatcher, dunlin, black scoter, sanderling, ruddy turnstone, and black-bellied plover. Two highlights were a prairie warbler in a shrubby area and redheads flying in and landing in Oregon Inlet. What made the redheads so exciting was the fact that as they flew in they first looked like a swarm of insects in the distance, then a flock of starlings as they neared and finally when they landed we realized there must have been upwards of 1,000 redheads. It was amazing to see so many all in one place. What a great morning on the coast!

Merlin

Merlin

As we headed to our next stop, Jennettes’s Pier, Sally spotted a merlin on an electrical wire. He sat there long enough for us to turn around, slowly drive up to him, and for Sally to approach on foot until he almost pooped on her. Finally he took off and we did too. Jennette’s Pier netted us more loons, horned grebes, and our target bird—razorbills. While scanning for the razorbills we also enjoyed the sight of frolicking porpoises. Sally and I then decided to drive over to Manteo where backyard birdfeeders had proved productive the previous year. As we staked out the feeders from across the street, the owner of the property came home. After chatting with her, we learned that she has eight painted buntings, two adult males and six female/juveniles coming to the feeders. Most of them are banded and one of the males has been returning for at least four years since he was banded as a juvenile. When we first arrived, we observed an accipiter in the trees behind the feeders and figured that was why no birds were chowing down. He must have flown out the back because soon the little birds returned and we got to see chipping sparrows, brown-headed cowbirds, house finch and both the male and female/juvenile painted buntings—another special moment for us.

Bodie Lighthouse

Bodie Lighthouse

Our last stop of the day was the Bodie Lighthouse area. A walk in the woods and scanning the water from the observation deck didn’t bring us any new birds for the weekend, but dusk was coming on and we were on owl alert again. About thirty of us stood along the entry road to the lighthouse listening. Finally we were rewarded with great horned owls calling to each other in the distance and a noisy Eastern towhee trying to get our attention. Before the sun finally set we were able to make out a couple of busy hermit thrushes near the roadside. As darkness settled in we headed back to the Comfort Inn for the weekend tally.

Sally and I were pleased that we each saw about a hundred birds. Collectively, the VSO recorded 135. Not bad at all for a weekend when the weather didn’t always cooperate. Usually, more birding takes place on Sunday, but high winds and precipitation were predicted so we left early that morning and headed home, very happy with the hundred or so birds we had seen. Another great birding trip!

 

1) Lake Mattamuskeet
2) Alligator River
3) Oceanfront
4) Oregon Inlet
5) Pea Island
6) Bodie Lighthouse
7) Manteo
8) In transit

Snow goose 5,8
Canada goose 1,2,5,8
Tundra Swan 1,2,5,8
Gadwall 1,5,6
American wigeon 1,6
Black duck 1,2,4,5
Mallard 1,2,5
Blue-winged teal 1,6
Northern shoveler 1,5,6
Northern pintail 1,2,5,6
Green-winged teal 1,5,6
Redhead 4
Ring-necked duck 1,2
Lesser scaup 5
Black scoter 3,4,5
Bufflehead 4,5
Hooded merganser 5
Red-breasted merganser 3,4,5
Ruddy duck 1,5
Northern bobwhite 2
Wild turkey 8
Red-throated loon 3,4
Common loon 3,4
Pied-billed grebe 1,2
Horned grebe 3
Northern gannet 3,4
Double-crested cormorant 1,2,3,4,5,8
White pelican 5,8
Brown pelican 4,8
American bittern 1
Great blue heron 1,2,5,8
Great egret 1,5,8
Cattle egret 8
Black-crowned night-heron 1,5
Dunlin 4
Purple sandpiper 4
Razorbill 3
Bonaparte’s gull 3,4
Ring-billed gull 3,4,8
Herring gull 3
Lesser black-backed gull 3
Great black-backed gull 3,4,8
Forster’s tern 1
Mourning dove 8
Great horned owl 6
Belted kingfisher 5,6,8
Red-bellied woodpecker 1
Yellow-bellied sapsucker 8
Downy woodpecker 2
Northern flicker 1,2
Pileated woodpecker 2
American kestrel 8
Merlin 8
Eastern phoebe 1
American crow 8
Tree swallow 1,2,5
Carolina chickadee 1,7
Carolina wren 1
Blue-gray gnatcatcher 1
Ruby-crowned kinglet 1
Eastern bluebird 8
Hermit thrush 6
American robin 2,8
Gray catbird 1
Northern mockingbird 4,8
European starling 8
Cedar waxwing 7
Common yellowthroat 1
White ibis 5
Black vulture 8
Turkey vulture 4,8
Northern harrier 2,5,8
Bald eagle 2,4,8
Red-shouldered hawk 8
Red-tailed hawk 2,8
Sora 1
American coot 1,5
American avocet 5
American oystercatcher 4
Black-bellied plover 4
Killdeer 4
Western willet 4
Ruddy turnstone 4
Sanderling 4
House finch 7
Palm warbler 1
Pine warbler 1
Yellow-rumped warbler 1,4,6
Prairie warbler 4
Eastern towhee 6
Chipping sparrow 1,7
Savannah sparrow 5
White-throated Sparrow 1
Song sparrow 4
Dark-eyed junco 8
Northern cardinal 1,7
Painted bunting 7
Red-winged blackbird 5,8
Eastern meadowlark 1
Boat-tailed grackle 3,4,5
Brown-headed cowbird 7

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