Friday, June 12, 2015

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Three NC birds with one stone

Natalia and I had a little getaway to Wilmington last weekend and took the opportunity to follow up on some unusual birds that have been hanging around southeastern North Carolina.

Shortly after dipping on Swallow-tailed Kites a few years ago with Nate Swick, the species was finally confirmed to be breeding in the Cape Fear River floodplain forest just below Lock and Dam #1.  Since they seem to be spreading northward, I figured they would get easier and easier each year.  At long last my patience has paid off.

Swallow-tailed Kite, above US-87, NC

We had our first sighting at the intersection of US-11 and US-87 as one cruised over the road in front of us.  We called Mark K., who, also searching for kites, was waiting for us to meet him about 5 miles further down the road.  This kite had vanished over the trees, so we decided to continue on to our rendezvous.
But we had only made it a quarter mile before two more kites crossed the road.  We pulled off at the first opportunity, a church parking lot, and were treated with the spectacle of eight (8!) Swallow-tailed Kites circling over our heads

I managed to get four out of eight Swallow-tailed Kites in one frame

I've seen these beautiful kites in Florida, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Colombia where they are common, but they are relative new-comers to NC. 

Only three Swallow-tailed Kites in this capture, but gives a nice perspective on how high they sometimes soar.  Also notice the middle-distance bird in the bottom left is molting flight feathers and has a much shorter tail.  Immature or molting adult?

Poor Mark arrived on the scene just after the kites had vanished.  We dallied around for 20 minutes in vain and then continued on to our original destination, an abandoned Monk Parakeet nest where kites had been seen earlier in the day.

We didn't see any kites, but where pleasantly surprised to see a pair of "Quaker birds," as they are called in pet store parlance, adding twigs to the nest.

Monk Parakeets, Northwest, NC

Monk Parakeets are native to southern South America, but are commonly owned as pets. Escapees have established large populations in the US--and not just in South Florida, but in northern cities as well.  Breeding in NC has been documented sporadically since the 1970s.

Monk Parakeet, Northwest, NC

According to locals, this pair has been in residence for a few years, but has yet to successfully fledge any chicks.  Apparently European Starlings (another exotic species, ironically) have taken to feeding on parakeet eggs.

We cruised around a bit longer with Mark hoping to lend him some of our Swallow-tailed Kite juju, but after a short, unsuccessful while we parted ways.  We wanted to get to the beach with time to see one more odd bird.  This one was over from across the pond, rather than from down south.

A Black-headed Gull had been hanging around Mason Inlet at the north end of Wrightsville Beach.  It turned out to be a real bird-chasers bird: sitting in plain sight in exactly the expected location.

Black-headed Gull, Mason Inlet, NC

These gulls are super common over in Europe and wander over the North America regularly, but this is the first one in a few years to be found in NC and then stick around for lots of birders to see.

Some may debate the "countability" of Monk Parakeet, but that quibble aside, it was cool to add three species to my NC in one day!  That hasn't happened since a pelagic I took in 2012. And I only added 5 species in all of 2014. So I don't ever expect to have such a day in this state ever again.