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Posts Tagged ‘Black-crowned Night-Heron’

Plan A was hatched last fall when the world was still normal.  I would drive to Michigan in late May to see Kirtland’s Warblers on their breeding grounds, continue north into Canada and drive the northern shore of Lake Superior, and then spend some time in Sax Zim Bog in Minnesota before returning home.  I had scheduled Erik Bruhnke to guide me one day at Sax Zim and I hoped that Diane could join us.  Derek might also be able to share part of the adventure with me.  When the coronavirus didn’t “just disappear,” that plan became not just inadvisable, but impossible as Canada closed its border.

Plan B was that Derek and I would do an abbreviated version of the trip, perhaps getting as far as South Dakota, where we could both meet some geographical birding targets and perhaps even get a few life birds.  But, as the coronavirus got worse instead of better, we didn’t want to stay in hotels.

A large pond of American Lotus at Swan Harbor Farm Park in Havre de Grace, MD

A large pond of American Lotus at Swan Harbor Farm Park in Havre de Grace, MD

In a last ditch effort to find something both safe and interesting, Derek invited me to Maryland.  We could base our travels around his home outside Baltimore, which would put us within two to three hours of several mid-Atlantic states and some excellent birding spots.  I left home in North Carolina on July 8, a day earlier than planned, when a Ruff showed up in Virginia.  We planned to meet there, but that plan, too, changed when Derek called me mid-morning and said that the Ruff was gone.  I reset my GPS for Derek’s home and continued my drive.

We set out for Bombay Hook NWR on our first day of birding, one of the places that I most wanted to go.  I hoped to see Saltmarsh and Seaside Sparrows, both species that I have seen only a few times.  Saltmarsh Sparrows declined to make an appearance for us, however, we enjoyed cute Marsh Wrens singing in the reeds and this Seaside Sparrow made me very happy.

Seaside Sparrow along the Saltmarsh Boardwalk at Bombay Hook NWR

Seaside Sparrow along the Saltmarsh Boardwalk at Bombay Hook NWR

Gulls, terns, shorebirds, herons, and others made for wonderful birding.  The only thing keeping the day from perfection was the constant biting flies.  They bit so hard that I had blood running down my legs in a few spots and we wondered if they wanted a chunk of flesh to go with our blood.  Later, Derek found the explanation on the Assateague Island National Seashore Facebook page, “Why are greenheads just so nasty?”  The short answer to why the bites hurt so badly is that the female greenhead “will probe the surface area to find a place packed with multiple capillaries to feed from a large pool. Then she will use her scissor-like mouth parts to bite and begin sucking blood. As she continues to draw your blood, other mouth parts begin to work her deeper and deeper into your skin.”  It was well worth it, though, to see these beautiful birds!

Least Sandpiper on Delaware's Slaughter Beach

Least Sandpiper on Delaware’s Slaughter Beach

After we completed the wildlife drive at Bombay Hook, we drove to nearby Slaughter Beach.  We were surprised to see Northern Mockingbirds on the actual beach.  After watching a few minutes, we saw the mockingbirds and Red-winged Blackbirds feeding on horseshoe crabs that had washed up and were scattered all along the water’s edge.  Across the road at the saltmarsh, Derek’s sharp eyes caught a brief look at a Saltmarsh Sparrow that I missed and we both saw more Seaside Sparrows.

We worked our way back into Maryland and finished the day with a stop at Daniel Crouse Memorial Park, a nice end to a big day of birding.

At Daniel Crouse Memorial Park, a female Blue Grosbeak with a grasshopper for her babies

At Daniel Crouse Memorial Park, a female Blue Grosbeak with a grasshopper for her babies

Friday started with a hike at Soldiers Delight Natural Environment Area, 1,900 acres of the largest serpentine barrens in Maryland and one of the few surviving examples on the east coast of this rare environment.  Our targets were Prairie Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, and Summer Tanager, all of which breed in the scrub habitat.  We found Prairie Warblers on the trail through the barrens and Yellow-breasted Chats at a nearly overlook, but we didn’t find any Summer Tanagers.  During my entire visit, we had very little luck with passerines in the hot July days.

We had time for several more birding forays that afternoon, including a stop to see a Peregrine Falcon on a water tower.  My favorite spot was North Point State Park where we found seven Little Blue Herons around the marshy edges of the lake – three dark blue adults, two white juveniles, and two immature birds sporting calico or pied plumage.  Little Blue Herons are white when they leave the nest, helping them blend into flocks of aggressive Snowy Egrets more easily.  It takes two years to achieve the full adult plumage.  For a short time during the transition from white to blue, one-year-old Little Blue Herons look like the beautiful bird below.

Little Blue Heron at North Point SP

Little Blue Heron at North Point SP

We headed to West Virginia on Saturday with the goal of upping my state list from 34 to 50.  It was more challenging without beaches, but I ended the day with exactly 50 species on my WV bird list.  My favorite spot was Stauffer’s Marsh Nature Preserve.  In addition to a few nice birds, we saw this beautiful Hummingbird Clearwing Moth, Hemaris thysbe.

Hummingbird Clearwing Moth at Stauffer's Marsh Nature Preserve

Hummingbird Clearwing Moth at Stauffer’s Marsh Nature Preserve

Our West Virginia day ended with some fun and relaxing time at Baker Park in Frederick, Maryland, where we enjoyed observing a breeding colony of Black-crowned Night-Herons.  This was only the second time that I have ever seen tame night-herons.  The following photos were taken just a few feet away from the birds.

Juvenile Black-crowned Night-Heron at Baker Park

Juvenile Black-crowned Night-Heron at Baker Park

Adult Black-crowned Night-Heron at Baker Park

Adult Black-crowned Night-Heron at Baker Park

Susquehanna State Park is the premier birding destination in northeastern Maryland and that’s where we headed on Sunday.  Again, passerines (perching birds) were more scarce than we expected.  Where were the warblers foraging with their youngsters?  But, we found a Kentucky Warbler right away and I had a very satisfying experience with this species that I don’t see often.  This gorgeous bird was still singing when we left and we probably could have watched him for as long as we liked.

Kentucky Warbler at Susquehanna State Park

Kentucky Warbler at Susquehanna State Park

It wasn’t a warbler, but at least the Gray Catbirds were out with just fledged juveniles in the picnic area.

Juvenile Gray Catbird at Susquehanna State Park

Juvenile Gray Catbird at Susquehanna State Park

After leaving Susquehanna SP, we went to Swan Harbor Farm Park and added a few more birds to my growing Maryland list.  Here’s a close-up of American Lotus, Nelumbo lutea, that covered a pond there and was shown in the first photo in this post.

American Lotus at Swan Harbor Farm Park

American Lotus at Swan Harbor Farm Park

We spent most of Monday in Pennsylvania, first at William H. Kain County Park and then at Richard M. Nixon County Park.  I had been to these spots in previous trips and it was nice to visit again.

A Great Egret in the beautiful, but horrible non-native invasive Purple Loosestrife at Kain County Park

A Great Egret in the beautiful, but horrible non-native invasive Purple Loosestrife at Kain County Park

One warbler that we did see and hear nearly everywhere was Common Yellowthroat.

Male Common Yellowthroat at Richard M. Nixon County Park

Male Common Yellowthroat at Richard M. Nixon County Park

We saw many beautiful birds in just five days and my visit was only half over!  Watch for Part 2.

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The final stretch of the Yard Squad Challenge started the same way that the last stretch ended – with a little more cheating.  I birded outside my home patch once again to get another new county bird.  This time it was a bird that I’ve seen many times, a Black-crowned Night-Heron, but with birding games it’s all about location; this was only the fourth time this species had been seen in Forsyth County in the last 20 years.

Black-crowned Night-Heron

Black-crowned Night-Heron

A birder/photographer not known to local birders saw the heron in a wetland as he was driving by early in the morning of May 17.  He stopped, got an excellent photo, and luckily for local birders, submitted an eBird checklist.  A few people searched for the bird during the day, but were unsuccessful in finding it.  I didn’t think that it would leave during the day, so I went to look for it in the late afternoon.  Another birder joined me in the search, which mainly consisted of standing in one place and scanning for two hours.  Finally, just before total darkness set in, we finally saw the bird on the far side of the wetland.  I was able to get photos as we watched it for about three minutes and then it flew off into the night.  Don’t we birders know how to have fun?

Back in my home patch, I continued to enjoy the neighborhood breeding birds.  One of my neighbors has a funky purple bird house that the Brown-headed Nuthatches seem to love.  They have used it for years and I was happy to see them in it again this year.

Purple nest box in a neighbor's yard

Purple nest box in a neighbor’s yard

These adorable little nuthatches are one of my favorite birds.

Brown-headed Nuthatch

Brown-headed Nuthatch

I’d like to say that was the start of a great week, but not much happened during the next few days except for rain nearly all day every day.  Finally, late on Friday afternoon, I was able to get out between showers, so I took my scope to scan the lake.  I didn’t see any birds at all with my naked eye, but when I scoped the far end, I found mama Wood Duck with six to eight ducklings swimming behind her!  I love Wood Ducks and I remember the thrill when I first found one on my lake.  One of my neighbors is a Wood Duck fan, too, and, several years ago he optimistically put up a nest box.  To my surprise, we did have a nesting pair use the box, but, sadly, raccoons got all the eggs.  I wasn’t optimistic at all.  I figured that if the eggs did hatch, the many large turtles on the lakes would get the babies.  But, here were Wood Duck ducklings on our lake!  This was unquestionably the most surprising and exciting find of the entire 8-week yard challenge for me.  I would have loved to get a photo, but the ducks were at the far end of the lake and it was raining again as I watched them swim away from me.

Canada Geese have better luck raising young on our three lakes.  We have at least one or two families that successfully reproduce every year.  Yes, they are just our resident geese who are too lazy to migrate, but the goslings are still adorable.

Canada Goose family

Canada Goose family

The first day of week two, Saturday, May 23, brought another surprise.  There is a vacant lot down the street from me with very thick scrubby habitat next to mature trees.  I had already seen Orchard Orioles there along with gnatcatchers, catbirds, and quite a few other birds.  That morning I heard a Yellow-breasted Chat.  I wasn’t shocked, but very pleasantly surprised.  This was a new bird for the Yardbirds and a bonus, too, as it was the first time I had ever observed one in the neighborhood.  I recorded the bird’s raucous call and then played the call hoping that it would react and I could see it, too.  It flew to less than ten feet from where I was standing!  He didn’t stay long enough for a photo, but what a great look – no binoculars needed!

When I got home, this big beauty was waiting for me in my backyard and willing to pose for a photo.  I hear these owls calling nearly every day in summer, but it’s always nice to see them.

Barred Owl in my backyard

Barred Owl in my backyard

Again, I hoped that it was the start of a great week and that the Yard Squad Challenge would have an exciting finish, but the Chat was the last bird that I added to the Yardbirds list.  I birded every day for the rest of the week, but I was unable to find any new species.  My last birds on May 29 were a Wood Thrush sweetly singing in the woods at the end of the street just before dark and then a pair of Barred Owls calling to each other across the lake when I got to my house.

Brown Thrasher in the neighborhood, one of my favorite birds

Brown Thrasher in the neighborhood, one of my favorite birds

The Yardbirds came in third among the original seven teams with 350 species for the entire competition from April 4 and May 29.  That’s in just 8 weeks with ten birders, a very impressive result in my opinion.  Our team worked hard as evidenced by our 114 bonus birds, species observed for the first time in a birder’s home patch.  We had perseverance, too, and birded enthusiastically until the very last day which put us third among all ten teams for the fourth two-week stretch with 267 species.  In my little North Carolina neighborhood, I found 83 species of birds; five of them were new for the neighborhood.  It was wonderful to have an activity that was fun and focused on the positive during these difficult days.  Many thanks to Matt Smith for creating and hosting the Yard Squad Challenge and to Joost Brandsma for leading the Yardbirds.

This is the fourth and last post about the Yard Squad Challenge.  Here are links to the earlier stories:
Birding in the Time of COVID-19 (Part 1 of 4)
Birding in the Time of COVID-19 (Part 2 of 4)
Birding in the Time of COVID-19 (Part 3 of 4)

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My second trip to Arizona was a few weeks ago.  I find that I can’t think about that trip without also recalling memories from my trip in April 2010.  The first trip was short – just four days – but I got 67 life birds!  My recent trip was a little longer – six days – but with more experience now, I was pleased to add just nine birds to my life list (plus one new ABA area bird).  Perhaps it’s the contrast that makes me acutely aware of the stages we go through as birders and the joys of it all.  In 2010, I remember my head spinning at Patton’s as I got three life birds in about three minutes.  “Oh, a Lincoln’s Sparrow.”  “Quick, over there – Lazuli Bunting!”  “Stop looking at those birds.  There’s a Violet-crowned Hummingbird at the feeder!”  My friend Susan and I birded from dawn to dusk with time for only one real meal.  It was wonderful fun, but sadly I have no photos at all from that trip.  The trip in November 2018 was with another friend, Diane.  Instead of mad dashes from one lifer to another, we had time to savor and study.  It was a different trip entirely, but just as enjoyable.

No Violet-crowned Hummingbirds on my recent trip, but Blue-throated Hummer was a lifer and one of my favorites.

No Violet-crowned Hummingbirds on my recent trip, but Blue-throated Hummer was a lifer and one of my favorites.

On our first day, Diane and I found life bird number one of the trip – adorable Rosy-faced Lovebirds.  We have no explanation for the “beads.”  Suggestions on Facebook included marking by a researcher or perhaps a pet escaped and joined the wild flock.  These colorful little parrots are popular cage birds.  Escaped pets became established in the wild and for over 30 years they have been breeding in residential neighborhoods in the Phoenix area.

Rosy-faced Lovebirds nest in the palm trees.

Rosy-faced Lovebirds nest in the palm trees.

Because I was such a new birder in 2010, life birds on that trip included quite a few common species.  I clearly remember being excited to see Brewer’s Blackbirds.  Susan could not understand my joy.  “Shelley, they aren’t classy birds.  They’re eating horse shit.”  But, she then conceded that every birder got their life Brewer’s Blackbird at some point.

This year, none of my desired lifers were widespread common birds.  Some of our targets would be challenging to find, so Diane and I hired local expert Melody Kehl for three days.  Melody delivered the first morning with Gilded Flicker, a bird that is found almost exclusively in Arizona.  I have now seen all 22 North American species in the woodpecker family.

My life Gilded Flicker

My life Gilded Flicker

Next, Melody found Rufous-winged Sparrows for us and then Black-capped Gnatcatchers, a primarily Mexican species that reaches its northernmost range in Southeast Arizona.  We had good looks, but the gnatcatchers did not cooperate for photos.

Diane had missed Elegant Trogon on her first trip to Arizona in 2010 and it was one of her most-wanted birds.  I told her to forget it, it was the wrong time of year and would be extremely unlikely.  But, guess what Melody found at the Madera Canyon picnic area?  Yep, an Elegant Trogon!  Madera lived up to its reputation for good birds that day with Olive Warblers, a Blue-throated Hummingbird, Hepatic Tanagers and many others.  One of my favorites was this Red-naped Sapsucker eating berries.  I had seen my lifer just a few months earlier in Montana, but this was my first good close look.

Red-naped Sapsucker

Red-naped Sapsucker

On our second day with Melody, we went to Santa Cruz flats to look for sparrows and raptors.  We struck out on Sagebrush Sparrow; apparently they had not arrived yet for the winter.  But, I was thrilled with the Prairie Falcon that we did find.  I had wanted this falcon as a life bird for a long time.  Now I was looking at a gorgeous cooperative bird.  I think that I can see hearts in the spots on its thighs.  Look at that face!  I am in love with this bird!

Prairie Falcon

Prairie Falcon

I have seen very few Barn Owls, any place, ever, so it was a thrill to also see these beautiful birds that day.  Doesn’t everyone, birder or not, love owls?  Barn Owls are one of the most widespread of all birds, found on every continent except Antarctica.  But widespread does not mean common and most owls are very sensitive to disturbance, so we just took a quick look, used no flash for photos, and did not disclose the exact location of these birds.

We were privileged to see these beautiful Barn Owls.

We were privileged to see these beautiful Barn Owls.

We got back early enough that afternoon that Diane and I had time to visit Reid Park, not far from our hotel.  We were amazed to see dozens of American Wigeons competing with Mallards for bread that kids were throwing.  Even an immature Black-crowned Nigh-Heron joined in the feeding frenzy!  While feeding bread to ducks is a common practice, it is not a good idea.  See this for 3 reasons you shouldn’t feed bread to ducks.

An immature Black-crowned Night-Heron joined the ducks snapping up bread thrown by the kids.

An immature Black-crowned Night-Heron joined the ducks snapping up bread thrown by the kids.

We headed to the Chiricahua Mountains on our third and last day with Melody.  Another much-wanted life bird, Crissal Thrasher, started the day.  We got a good look, but it was too quick for photos.  We then searched for Juniper Titmouse which Melody found and Diane saw well.  But, with my poor vision, I did not see the birds well enough to count them.  Next time.

An Acorn Woodpecker at the George Walker House in the Chiricahua Mountains. A common western species, but always fun to see.

An Acorn Woodpecker at the George Walker House in the Chiricahua Mountains. A common western species, but always fun to see.

After a morning of exploring the mountains and visiting several yards with feeders, we had a wonderful picnic lunch at Barfoot Park.  Just as we finished our meal, Melody heard Mexican Chickadees.  Mexican Chickadees, as their name implies, are primarily a Mexican species which occur in the US only in the Chihuahua and a small mountain range in New Mexico.  These birds were our main reason for the long drive from Tucson that day.  With some effort, we saw about a dozen birds and I even got so-so photos.  The timing could not have been better if Melody had trained those chickadees!

Mexican Chickadee

Mexican Chickadee

Diane and I then had two more days before we had to be back in Phoenix for our flights home.  We decided to spend our last night near Tucson at WOW Arizona so that we could bird there in the afternoon and again the following morning.  This wildlife sanctuary/B&B with numerous feeding stations was the perfect place for close-up study of many species we had seen during the previous days.  A bonus was watching a gorgeous Harris’s Hawk, a new species for the trip, come for its chicken leg supper.

Harris's Hawk waiting to come down for its supper.

Harris’s Hawk waiting to come down for its supper.

WOW Arizona was very relaxing.  We just walked around a bit and sat in front of the feeders watching beautiful birds.

The many hummingbirds at WOW Arizona provided a good opportunity to study a few species up close. I especially liked this immature male Broad-billed Hummingbird.

The many hummingbirds at WOW Arizona provided a good opportunity to study a few species up close. I especially liked this immature male Broad-billed Hummingbird.

CJ, co-owner of WOW Arizona, helped me get good looks at Black-tailed Gnatcatchers.

CJ, co-owner of WOW Arizona, helped me get good looks at Black-tailed Gnatcatchers.

I loved watching this Cactus Wren in a cactus in front of the house!

I loved watching this Cactus Wren in a cactus in front of the house!

This adult male Costa's Hummingbird gave me my best looks ever for this species.

This adult male Costa’s Hummingbird gave me my best looks ever for this species.

Diane and I had a great week in southeastern Arizona, but, as always, it was over too quickly. There were quite a few places that we wanted to go, but our limited time did not allow. I think that I see another trip to Arizona in our future!

The view from one of the trails at WOW Arizona. The tree in the foreground is overflowing with Mourning Doves.

The view from one of the trails at WOW Arizona. The tree in the foreground is overflowing with Mourning Doves.

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California Patch

California Patch

When my friend Myrna asked me to visit her in her new California home, of course I said “yes”. I had birded Southern California in April a couple of years ago, so I didn’t expect many new birds. It would be fun just to see Myrna and explore her new part of the country together. I flew to Palm Springs on March 31 and we checked out her Sun City Palm Desert neighborhood that afternoon. The lakes were still covered with ducks and coots. The ducks included American Wigeon, Ring-necked and Ruddy Ducks, Mallard, and a single male Red-breasted Merganser. Evidently, the merganser was a bit unusual for this location as it required quite a few emails messages with the eBird reviewer to convince him of our sighting.

Myrna and I found the Black-crowned Night-Herons more interesting. First, we found this cooperative juvenile.

Black-crowned Night-Heron (juvenile)

Black-crowned Night-Heron (juvenile)

A couple of days later, we found the first summer bird and the adult in the photos below. It’s a very common bird, but it was fun to compare the three different plumages.

Black-crowned Night-Heron (first summer)

Black-crowned Night-Heron (first summer)

Black-crowned Night-Heron (adult plumage)

Black-crowned Night-Heron (adult plumage)

 

On our first full day, we went to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park . Myrna had been there two weeks before my visit and witnessed the spectacle of wildflowers, White-lined Sphinx Moth caterpillars, and hundreds of migrating Swainson’s Hawks feeding on the caterpillars. But, in the California desert, all life depends upon the unpredictable seasonal rains. Alas, there had not been recent rain when I arrived, so we saw no caterpillars nor Swainson’s Hawks and few wildflowers. Regardless, we had a wonderful day exploring the gorgeous desert.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

White-lined Sphinx Moth caterpillar

Our favorite birds that day were Rock Wrens. We’re pretty sure that they were building a nest in the crevice in these rocks. I had a very difficult time taking photographs in the bright desert sun, but if you look closely, you can see a wren on top of the left rock. In the same very dry desert area with the wrens, we also found a Black-throated Gray Warbler, Brewer’s Sparrows, and the ever-present White-crowned Sparrows.

Rock Wren nest

We walked the trail to Pena Spring, also dry desert, and found a Phainopepla, Cactus Wren, more Brewer’s Sparrows, and the most orange House Finch that either of us had ever seen.

Myrna at the Pena Spring trailhead

Myrna at the Pena Spring trailhead

The Anza-Borrego Visitor Center is a little oasis where we were pleased to get great looks at Nashville, Orange-crowned, and Yellow-rumped Warblers.

We took it easy the next day and stayed close to Myrna’s home. On Friday, we had another big day at San Jacinto Wildlife Area, a 19,000 acre site with 9,000 acres of restored wetlands. As expected, the water brings in the birds and this was the birdiest place that we visited. Most were common western birds, with Eared Grebe in breeding plumage a highlight.

Eared Grebe

Eared Grebe

We also enjoyed close looks at a very cooperative American Pipit.

American Pipit

American Pipit

Myrna saved the best for last and on Saturday we visited Big Morongo Canyon Preserve and Covington Park. These parks consist of both desert and woods, but most of the birds that we saw were in the wooded areas. A pair of Vermillion Flycatchers thrilled all the birders in the park that day. We were just as happy to see a pair of Phainopeplas cavorting in the trees. Lesser and Lawrence’s Goldfinches presented themselves for comparison as well as Hooded and Bullock’s Orioles. Three species of hummingbirds charmed us – Costa’s, Anna’s, and Black-chinned. These parks are also home to both Ladder-backed and Nuttall’s Woodpeckers and we were told that many of the birds there were hybrids. And, here, we finally got our Swainson’s Hawk.

Phainopepla pair.  Photo by Larry Noelker.

Phainopepla pair. Photo by Larry Noelker.

Back at Myrna’s, most of the ducks and coots had left, but the Verdins and White-crowned Sparrows in Myrna’s yard were a constant delight. These White-crowned Sparrows are the Gambel’s subspecies, different from the birds that we normally see in the east. Note the pale lores on Myrna’s bird.

White-crowned Sparrow (Gambell's subspecies) on Myrna's feeder

White-crowned Sparrow (Gambell’s) on Myrna’s feeder

In four and a half days, we had seen 85 species of birds and Southern California habitat ranging from desert to oasis to mountain forest to wetlands. Myrna and I had a wonderful visit and fun exploring this beautiful part of the country that she now calls home.

Desert Cottontail in Myrna's neighborhood

Desert Cottontail in Myrna’s neighborhood

 

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Snowy Owl on the beach at Cape Hatteras

Snowy Owl on the beach at Cape Hatteras

Seeing the Snowy Owl could not have been easier.  We parked at the Cape Hatteras campground, walked the quarter-mile trail over the dunes to the beach, and saw the beautiful owl perched on a piece of driftwood.  The hard part had been convincing everyone to go for it.  It was the first day of the Thanksgiving OBX trip for our group of eight from the Piedmont Bird Club.  When we had first talked about the owl, everyone was agreeable to what everyone else wanted to do, but no one expressed a desire to change our plans to see the owl.  So, we had intended to stick with our itinerary and go to Lake Mattamuskeet NWR on Thanksgiving, the only day that weekend that it was closed to hunting.  But after a friend called me at 7:30 on Thanksgiving morning and said, “We just saw the owl, you don’t even have to walk down the beach,” everyone was willing to change our plans.  The Snowy Owl was a life bird for five of our group and a state bird for me.  And, it was gorgeous!  After admiring the owl, we started back towards our cars and had a wonderful surprise – an American Bittern right out in the open in the middle of the path.

American Bittern

American Bittern at Cape Hatteras

We birders had a lot to be thankful for on Thanksgiving Day. And, it was still early so we continued on to Lake Mattamuskeet.

Black-crowned Night-Heron

Second year Black-crowned Night-Heron at Lake Mattamuskeet NWR

It was full of birds as expected, especially ducks and Tundra Swans, the real stars of wintertime coastal North Carolina along with thousands of Snow Geese.  Other highlights were Marsh Wrens and seven Black-crowned Night-Herons.  The group of Night-Herons included individuals of various ages.  It was the first time that I can recall seeing a second-year bird – no longer spotted like a juvenile, but rather dull and dusky with the bill still partially yellow.  I had seen both Tundra Swans and Snow Geese before, but enjoyed the opportunity to really study them and note details like the pink bills of the juvenile swans.

Tundra Swan family

Tundra Swans at Alligator River NWR

Snow Geese in flight

Snow Geese at Pea Island NWR

Friday brought more good birds at Pea Island, Bodie Island, and Alligator River NWR.  The highlight for that day may not have been a bird at all, but the Black Bear that we found shortly before dark in a field at Alligator River.  Although this was a large wild animal, there was something very cute and appealing about him as he moved about in the field munching on vegetation.

Phyllis me Bear

Shelley, “Bear,” and Phyllis

We had another “bear” for the weekend when a friend of Emily’s cousin showed up unexpectedly with his large dog to spend the night at the condo where most of our group was staying.  I was glad that I was sharing a room with Phyllis as otherwise it might have been a little crowded on the sofa at the condo.  Phyllis quickly became Bear’s new best friend when she took him for a walk, but I shared my lunch with him, so I think that he liked me, too.

Red-winged Blackbird

Female Red-winged Blackbird at Alligator River NWR

On Saturday, our last full day of the trip, we went to Alligator River NWR again.  And, the bird that I most remember?  A Red-winged Blackbird!  I should be embarrassed to tell this story, but I’m blessed with the ability to laugh at myself, so here it is.  As we were driving out, a bird the size of a large sparrow flew in front of our car and then perched in a shrub on the side of the road.  We stopped, admired the bird, puzzled over its identity, and I took dozens of photos.  We saw only the back of the bird and the face.  The pattern on the back and wings was intricate and beautiful; the orange on the face was gorgeous!  We thought that it must be a rare sparrow that we just couldn’t identify.  After puzzling over the photos for a while, we realized what it was.  A very common bird that I thought I’d learned years ago – a female Red-winged Blackbird.  I love the never-ending lessons of birding.  I don’t need new life birds when I can’t remember the birds that I’ve already seen!

After a stop at Jennette’s Pier in Nags Head and another at Bodie Island Lighthouse & Pond, the trip was over all too soon.  Our final birds of the trip were a few gulls and at least 75 Northern Gannets that Phyllis and I saw from our sixth floor ocean-front balcony the next morning.  It was peaceful yet thrilling to watch the large group of gannets soaring, gliding, swooping, and diving.  I felt totally happy and content, lost in the moment, while watching those gorgeous birds.

Emily Tyler did an excellent job organizing and leading the trip and it was great fun sharing the experience with new friends.  I’m looking forward to the next Piedmont Bird Club trip.

Pintail pair

Northern Pintail pair at Bodie Lighthouse pond

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