Wednesday, April 30, 2014

More White-faced Ibises at Mattamuskeet NWR

Last winter when I stumbled upon an immature White-faced Ibis at Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge it represented what would become just the third accepted record for this species in North Carolina.

Well now it appears if this bird may be (or have recently become?) an annual visitor to the refuge as I came across four White-faced in a flock of more than 100 Glossies last week.

White-faced Ibises, Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge
I first picked out a couple immature birds among a dense flock of glossies, but then after they took flight briefly I noticed a couple adults settle down apart from the group...perhaps a pair bond?

Can you find the White-faced Ibis in this scrum?

This begs the question: for how long have White-faced Ibises been visiting Mattamuskeet without being detected?

The refuge is relatively isolated and receives few birders outside of its world-famous winter waterfowl season. Because it is so vast, when birders do make the pilgrimage they rarely have the chance to check every every corner of each impoundment (not to mention the many areas that are inaccessible).  It also takes a good close look at the face to tell Glossy and White-faced Ibises apart; I've been lucky with cooperative flocks in that regard.

Who knows how long they'll stick around, but I will say that with or without rare ibises, spring is a fun and underrated time to bird Mattamuskeet.

By late April most of the waterfowl have departed except a few transient dabbler flocks, the most abundant being the handsome Blue-winged Teal, which are probably stopping en route from South America. 

Blue-winged Teal, Mattamuskeet NWR
Spring at the refuge also provides the rare opportunity to see some shorebirds in breeding plumage. I had to stop and try some quick digiscoping when I saw a flock of 140 dowitchers, but just when I was getting my first few captures, they took flight.

Long-billed Dowitchers, Mattamuskeet NWR
The cause for alarm turned out to be a prowling Peregrine Falcon, which I watched take a couple unsuccessful stoops at a Forster's Tern. 

Sadly my days of field work at Mattamuskeet will be coming to an end before too long and that will be goodbye to a lot of exciting bird life.  I can only hope some other rarity will magically appear in the meantime--perhaps a Garganey or Fulvous Whistling-Duck--wouldn't that be nice! 


  1. It's surprising to hear they only had 3 accepted records of WFIB prior to your findings.
    Were there at least lots of possible hybrid records?

    At any rate, it seems like you're opening up the vault. I suspect, in a similar vein, that there are more Glossy Ibis out in central AZ than recorded, but Ibis flocks get up and move early, and faced with many birding options, few people give them the necessary going-over to pick out the vagrants.

    Neat post, cheers.

    1. Thanks, Laurence

      My understanding is that hybrids are rather common in Texas, but I don't know of any reported hybrids in NC.

  2. I really think that there have been White-faceds on the refuge for some time. Last year we had individuals mixed in with Glossies on both east and central impoundments in the late winter-early spring. This year there have been White-faceds mixed in western impoundments as well.

    Boy, it'd be great to get transmitters on one or two of these birds! This may represent a winter range expansion not unlike that of the White Pelican here in coastal NC...

    Susan Campbell
    Whispering Pines, NC

    1. Could be! I asked the new BRC chair about these birds and he said he would still like to see reports written up, but I would be surprised if this trend does not continue and the become annual at the refuge in winter/spring.