Posts Tagged ‘Snow Goose’

Life has kept me busy recently. It’s hard to believe that our Utah trip was three months ago. Finally, here is the rest of the story – my drive back to North Carolina. After dropping David at the Albuquerque airport, I wanted to stay close until his plane was airborne, so I chose an easy place to see lots of birds – Tingley Lagoon, part of ABQ BioPark. Well, there were lots of ducks, but I like ducks. There were also cormorants that breed on the little islands in the middle of the ponds – both Double-crested and Neotropic – but my photos all seem to show Neotropic Cormorants.

Here are a few other birds from this spot, a female Common Merganser, male Northern Pintail, American Coot, and Canada Goose.

After a pleasant hour at the Tingley Lagoons, it was time to head east. I got one more “life” New Mexico bird at the Pajarito rest area – a Chihuahuan Raven that I was able to identify only because I noticed its call sounded different from Common Raven and I recorded it.

At another rest area near Santa Rosa, I saw the Cholla on the right. Then I drove on into Texas where I spent the night.

The next morning, I found one more Texas life bird, Western Meadowlark, at the Donley County US 287 Safety Rest Area. I got photos of a meadowlark that was satisfactory for identification, but this Eurasian Collared-Dove was much more photogenic.

My major stops on the way back to NC were both in Oklahoma, first Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. It is a major birding hotspot, but is more well-known for its other wildlife, notably the bison, longhorn, and elk that roam the park’s 59,000 acres.

Nearly 100 years ago, a herd of Longhorn was established at Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge to save the breed from extinction. Here is a detailed accounting of the story. Apparently, there are current debates about whether or not cattle belong on a wildlife refuge, but they are beautiful and I’d guess the desire to see these creatures contributes to making this one of the most visited wildlife refuges in the county.

The refuge also has several prairie dog towns and I never tire of these cute rodents. Did you know that they are related to squirrels and chipmunks? Yes, they are all in the family Scuiridae. These were black-tailed prairie dogs, the only one that I think I’ve seen of the five prairie dog species in North America.

I did see a few birds, too, like the Greater Yellowlegs below, although I’m sure there would have been many more birds later in the year.

My favorite bird at Wichita Mountains was a single Ring-billed Gull proudly standing in the middle of a prairie dog town on the side of the road.

The next day I toured another wildlife refuge, Sequoyah NWR, near Oklahoma’s eastern border with Arkansas. I received a nice welcome from a flock of about 40 American White Pelicans that flew over as I drove into the park. This refuge had only a fraction of the visitors of Wichita Mountains on the day I visited. However, I met a couple of birders at the entrance kiosk and we birded a lovely path in the woods together. The rest of the refuge was mostly open and the next birds I saw were a large flock of Snow Geese.

It was interesting to see so many dark morph birds in the group. Snow Geese winter on the coast of North Carolina, but we rarely see a “Blue Goose” here.

In addition to birds, I saw a new and interesting turtle. Unfortunately, I focused my camera on the wrong one, the larger pond slider, a common and widespread species that I’ve seen many times. After submitting it to iNaturalist, I learned that the turtle on the right is an Ouachita Map Turtle. It is not rare either, but its range is the south-central part of the US and I’d never seen one before. And, what a cool name!

I saw about 35 species of birds at Sequoyah, mostly the same species that I can see in North Carolina. My last bird there was a Bald Eagle that flew over a pond filled with ducks and then landed in a tree by the road. I enjoyed the hours I spent at this refuge and would love to visit again.

After Sequoyah, all that was left was the uneventful drive to North Carolina. This was definitely my least birdy road trip ever, but I did manage to get both my Oklahoma and New Mexico lists to over 50 species. I also added several new counties even though you can drive for miles and miles in the West and see nothing. The map below shows every county in which I have observed birds. Good county birders have maps with clear, continuous lines representing travels. My maps look like an advanced version of connect-the-dots, but I try.

But more important than the birds was the amazing landscape that David and I saw in Utah and the fun we had exploring that part of our country. Visiting Arches and Canyonlands National Parks and Dead Horse Point State Park made this a trip of a lifetime.

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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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