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Posts Tagged ‘MacGillivray’s Warbler’

North Carolina is best known in the birding world for its mid-Atlantic pelagic species. The past couple of weeks, though, NC has been in the national spotlight for a different reason – an astounding number of rare birds. The most notable of these are NC’s fifth Varied Thrush, fourth MacGillivray’s Warbler, and seventh Vermilion Flycatcher. Not quite as rare, but still notable, are a Bullock’s Oriole, two Black-chinned Hummingbirds, two Rough-legged Hawks, and reports of Evening Grosbeaks all over the state. Evening Grosbeaks haven’t been seen in such numbers in North Carolina for nearly 40 years. That’s not all, but I can’t keep up, so I’ll just share my personal experiences with a few of these fascinating visitors.

On December 5, I made a day trip to Cary to see the gorgeous Varied Thrush. Well over a hundred birders have now seen this beautiful bird and no one tells its story better than Maria de Bruyn. See her lovely story, Serendipity in a stressful year, to learn more about the species, this particular individual, and his generous and welcoming hosts.

Varied Thrush in Cary, NC. The normal range of this species is the Pacific Northwest.

Varied Thrush in Cary, NC. The normal range of this species is the Pacific Northwest.

I’ve had only one overnight trip since February and I’ve been itching for a little get-away. I decided that I’d go to North Carolina’s Outer Banks for a few days and do some county birding on the way out and back. I had to work around appointments and was able to start my little trip on December 9. Amazingly, the MacGillivray’s Warbler that was found on December 3 at the Duck Park Boardwalk was still there. Also, the day before I left, a Vermilion Flycatcher showed up in Martin County, conveniently located between my home and the Outer Banks. My county birding plans were quickly scrapped to allow more time to chase these rare birds.

Information about whether birders were welcome at the farm where the Vermilion Flycatcher had appeared was not yet available when I left on Wednesday morning, so I drove straight to the coast. I had just enough time to stop at Alligator River NWR to look for the Rough-legged Hawk that had been there for several weeks. Despite an hour and a half of searching, I was unable to find the hawk and went on to my hotel in Nags Head.

Ash-throated Flycatcher at the Duck Park Boardwalk. Another western species that is rare in NC, but occasionally appears here in winter.

Ash-throated Flycatcher at the Duck Park Boardwalk. Another western species that is rare in NC, but occasionally appears here in winter.

On Thursday morning, I met my friend Kerry Eckhardt at the Duck boardwalk. There were reports of the MacGillivray’s Warbler being seen at all times of the day, so we didn’t rush and got there after 9:00 AM. The park was very birdy, but we couldn’t find the warbler. However, we did quickly find the Ash-throated Flycatcher which had not been seen since December 4. I was thrilled to see this pretty bird because I needed it for my North Carolina list. It was especially satisfying that we found it on our own. After four and a half hours, we gave up looking for the warbler and went to Bodie Island lighthouse to see if we would have better luck with a White-winged Dove, another rare bird for NC, which had been seen recently.

I wasn't fast enough to get a photo of the Bodie Island White-winged Dove. I photographed this bird in Texas where they are much more common.

I wasn’t fast enough to get a photo of the Bodie Island White-winged Dove. I photographed this bird in Texas where they are much more common.

Just as we were about to give up on the dove, a couple of other birders found us and said, “We’ve been looking for you. We have the dove.” And, then they showed us the White-Winged Dove on the side of the entrance road. This helpfulness was typical for the entire trip.  I may be biased, but I think that birders are the nicest people in the world.

I was determined to see the MacGillivray’s Warbler, so while Kerry went to Pea Island to enjoy the spectacle of Tundra Swans and ducks on Friday, I went back to Duck. I wasn’t able to get there at 7:00 AM as Jeff Blalock had told me that I must do, but I did get there before 8:00 AM this time. I joined a nice group of birders and it wasn’t long before someone found our target bird. He doesn’t make it easy to get a good look, but I got lucky and even got a photo. Did the nearly six hours of searching make finally seeing the warbler sweeter? Birding can be an emotional roller-coaster with despair quickly followed by unbridled joy. Can you have the latter without the former? I don’t know, but I guess not.

MacGillivray's Warbler, yet another western species. Only the 4th NC record.

MacGillivray’s Warbler, yet another western species. Only the 4th NC record.

After seeing the MacGillivray’s Warbler, I joined Kerry for a little birding at Pea Island and then we went to Alligator River to look for the Rough-legged Hawk. Another hour and a half of searching produced no sighting of the hawk, although we did enjoy the Northern Harriers cruising low over the fields and a few other raptors.

On Saturday morning, Kerry headed home and I returned to Alligator River for the third time to look for the hawk. In nearly four hours of searching, I still could not find the bird. My check engine light came on and my car shuddered like it was on its last breath every time I started the engine. Sadly, I decided that I couldn’t put off getting the car checked out any longer and I left. On my way out, I ran into Dwayne Martin and a friend and we chatted a bit. Five minutes later, I was several miles down State Road 64 when Dwayne called me. “We’ve got the hawk.” I did a u-turn in the middle of 64 and raced back. They still had the Rough-legged Hawk in their scope. I got it in my scope and had distant, but diagnostic, views of the bird and even saw it hover a few times, a characteristic behavior of Rough-legged Hawks. This bird had required even more effort than the MacGillivray’s Warbler – seven hours on this trip plus several hours a couple of weeks ago with my friend Derek looking for the other Rough-legged Hawk at Pond Mountain. Again, I was elated.

My only photo of a Rough-legged Hawk, one seen in Colorado. The Alligator River bird was much too far for a photo. Note that the feathers on the leg go all the way to the foot, which gives this bird its name.

My only photo of a Rough-legged Hawk, one seen in Colorado. The Alligator River bird was much too far for a photo. Note that the feathers on the leg go all the way to the foot, which gives this bird its name.

I went to Advance Auto Parts and got the codes read and cleared on my car. Fortunately, the shaking stopped and the check engine light has not come back on. After dealing with that, I had just a bit of daylight left, so I stopped at Jennette’s Pier and didn’t see much but did enjoy the two young male Common Eiders.

A young male Common Eider at Jennette's Pier, Nags Head

A young male Common Eider at Jennette’s Pier, Nags Head

And just like that my three full days at the Outer Banks were gone. On Sunday, I left for home, but had one more bird to see on the way – the Vermilion Flycatcher. Many birders had seen this beautiful bird while I was at the coast and the owner of the farm had been very welcoming to birders. The flycatcher moved up the hill to the farm next door and these folks, too, seemed pleased to host this gorgeous bird and welcomed birders.

The friendly folks who put up this sign also had a guestbook for birders to sign.

The friendly folks who put up this sign also had a guestbook for birders to sign.

I pulled up behind the other cars and was greeted with “He’s right there.” And indeed the Vermilion Flycatcher was perched on a post in the horse pasture. Even though I saw the bird right away, I stayed nearly two hours because it was a beautiful day and it was fun to watch the flycatcher and visit with the other birders. I could not have asked for a more pleasant end to my trip.

The Vermilion Flycatcher was right at home with the horses.

The Vermilion Flycatcher was right at home with the horses.

 

Vermilion Flycatcher in Martin County, NC's 7th record of this species.

Vermilion Flycatcher in Martin County, NC’s 7th record of this species.

Now I’m home waiting for Evening Grosbeaks to show up. It would be thrilling to see these beauties in my yard.

An Evening Grosbeak that I photographed in Colorado last year

An Evening Grosbeak that I photographed in Colorado last year

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