Tuesday, June 14, 2011

My first summer trip to Hatteras

I had so much fun on my last Hatteras trip that when a friend invited me down to his house in Frisco for the weekend, I just couldn't say 'no.'

Hatteras is a whole different world of birds in summertime.  But vacationers also flock from all over the place for the abundant sand, warm water and legendary fishing.

Before I even got there though I saw a couple Gull-billed Terns while crossing the bridge over Oregon Inlet.  My 250th bird in North Carolina!

And then less than an hour later I found a group of Black-necked Stilts at Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge for my 300th United States (and ABA) bird!

White-winged Dove
Far more unusual than the stilts (which are, afterall, featured on the Pea Island NWR logo) was a White-winged Dove I found in the Live Oak tunnel that covers part of the nature trail.  On my trip back through on Sunday I stopped in again and found the White-winged Dove again, this time at the bird feeders by the refuge office.  It was doing its best Mourning Dove impression, but the grackles weren't buying it. 

I last saw a White-winged Dove just minutes away, as the bird flies, during the Pea Island Christmas bird count last December (see my post for the photo etc.). But seeing one in June is probably even more unexpected than in December.  As far as I know (though I admit I don't know all that much; somebody set me straight) this is the first June record for NC.  I did find a record for June in South Carolina from 1998 on the Carolina Bird Club Website.

Anyway, I seem to have an affinity for finding this species.

On to Hatteras...

Great Shearwater
I was able to get a last-minute spot on Brian Patteson's boat and go out to the gulf stream on Saturday.  Conditions where perfect: partly cloudy with mild seas, though I have been told that a rough ocean often seems to bring out better birds.  Indeed, the birding was pretty average.  It could have been worse, but we certainly didn't see anything super-rare (3 White-tailed Tropicbirds were seen on the Sunday trip for example).  But these pelagic trips are always a roll of the dice, and given that this was my first one in summer, I really couldn't lose.  Great Shearwater, Audubon's Shearwater, Black-capped Petrel and a Pomarine Jaeger were all life birds for me, while Wilson's Storm-Petrel, Band-rumped Storm Petrel and Corey's Shearwater were added to my ABA area list.

Short-finned Pilot Whale
Unfortunately, my camera is pretty terrible at taking pictures of things against the ocean, so I didn't get any great bird photos.  I found napping passengers made for much more easily captured subjects (see Ali Iyoob's facebook page).  My luck capturing marine mammals wasn't that great either, especially given that many came swimming right up to the front of the boat to ride the bow.  We saw Bottlenose and Spotted Dolphins; and Cuvier's Beaked and Long-finned Pilot Whales.

After we disembarked Ali, Nathan Swick and I checked the salt pond near cape point hoping to see the Red-billed Tropicbird that had been reported there the day before.  We found no sign of any ABA logos, but there were Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Short-billed Dowitchers, a White-rumped Sandpiper, Piping Plovers, Black Skimmers, an American Oystercatcher and Least Terns all over the place to name a few of the more interesting birds present.  I checked for the tropicbird again the next day (three times just to be sure) without luck while Ali and Nate were out at sea busily seeing a few White-tailed Tropicbirds.

My stop to refind the White-winged Dove at Pea Island NWR earned me one final life bird (#1510!) for the trip in a pair of Red-necked Phalaropes on North Pond.  How convenient.  This was a pelagic species I was disappointed not to see from the boat.

Black Bear
In hopes of seeing a Glossy Ibis, I stopped into Alligator River NWR on my way back towards Durham.  Access to all the impoundment areas seemed to be blocked, but I was rewarded for my trouble by my first ever sighting of a wild Black Bear.  As I was watching in through binoculars from my car I glanced forward to see an adult Wild Turkey hustling across the road in front of me!

What a great trip: 6 new life birds and almost as many new mammals!  I'm sure I'll be back for another visit before long.
This weekend I'm off to the NC mountains where I have never before birded.  Getting 6 life birds may not be possible, but I hope to find at least a few!


  1. Congratulations. 6 Lifers is always a good day in my mind.

  2. Thanks Derek! Actually it was 6 lifers in a weekend (with 4 on Saturday). Still good no matter how you slice it.

  3. great blog,Scott. my brother,Gil Millerwent on Sunday's trip,was underthe weather due mostly to lack of sleep, but had a great time, many lifers and loved the tropicbirds, one was 15 feet overhead. remember gil of cassin's sparrow discovery-did you meet him with ali and the boys? thanks, bill

  4. Gil,
    Thanks for your comment. Unfortunately I never got to meet Gil nor his famous Cassin's Sparrow. I visited the spot for three hours on May 7 (rather a long while after it was discovered) and found no sign of it. It was never reported again after that, so I'm afraid I somehow scared it away back west. Alternatively it could have been taking a big nap while I was and by that date everyone who had any interest had already gone to see it or just nobody bothered to report it... seems unlikely though!