Sunday, February 16, 2014

Snowy Birds at the Outer Banks

Last weekend I went all the way to the outermost of North Carolina's Outer Banks, Ocracoke, accessible only by ferry in search of Snowy Owls in the cold rain.

I had already seen one at Cape Hatteras in November, but for Natalia, who hails from the equator more or less, seeing this beautiful bird that has wandered halfway down from the top of the world is worth just about any hardship. 

We met up with the now-famous Peter Vankevich, Ocracoke's preeiminent librarian and birder, who shrugged off the nasty weather to take us, his 130-somethingth personal guests, on what has become his daily ritual, an island Snowy Owl chase.

It is sometimes said that the best birds are the ones you work for and this owl was tough!

After a few fruitless hours traversing the island and it's beaches we took a lunch break.  Luckily a hot tip hit Peter's email inbox about a sighting at the airstrip and at long last that's where we found "Blanche," as Peter has named this individual, looking a bit waterlogged from the persistent rain.
Snowy Owl, Ocracoke, North Carolina
After snapping photos from various angles we raced back up to the north end of the island to catch the ferry back to Hatteras.  To our surprise a second Snowy Owl flushed up off the roadside as we cruised past.  It gave us a side-long look as it flew over to the dunes as if to say "don't forget that I'm here too!"

Peter has known that two birds have been residing on the island, but after examining some photos thinks there may at least three!

We spent Sunday birding our way north up the banks and then west back toward Durham.  This winter has been especially good for ducks and we had little trouble getting all three scoter species, both scaup and Natalia's first Long-tailed Duck and Harlequin Ducks.

But the snow bird theme continued for us at Jockey's Ridge State Park where we got great views of some cute Snow Buntings.
Snow Buntings, Jockey's Ridge State Park, North Carolina

These little arctic wonders are usually reported on a beach somewhere in NC each year, but this state park is only place I've ever been able to track them down locally

Snow Buntings, Jockey's Ridge State Park, North Carolina
And we saw seven to boot!

A huge thanks to Peter Vankevich for making our snow bird weekend a success!  Also to Jeff Lewis for keeping track of all the interesting birds across Dare County for us...

sleeping Band-tailed Pigeon butt, Manteo, North Carolina

...and to the host of this Band-tailed Pigeon in Manteo who has graciously allowed more than 150 birders to drop by and see North Carolina's second record of this western species.