Sunday, August 23, 2015

A pair of boobies off Hatteras

This weekend was Natalia's first time officially spotting on a pelagic.  While she performed admirably for a couple days out in the Gulf Stream aboard the Stormy Petrel II, a sexier pair of boobies ended up stealing the show. 

You never know what to expect when rolling the dice on a pelagic trip, or hell, in birding anywhere, but on Friday's trip we encountered something unprecedented.  We first spotted a distant sulid--a young Brown Booby, which uncooperatively picked up and flew away from the boat. Not 15 minutes later as we were creeping up on a flock of sitting shearwaters I heard Brian's voice over the radio urging us to look at the "big white bird in the middle."

Masked Booby with Cory's Shearwaters

This booby was far more friendly than its Brown cousin and seemed content to preen with its shearwater friends while we ogled from close range.

Masked Booby

It looked like it was molting into its first set of adult or near-adult feathers, giving it a bit of a mud-spattered look. 

Masked Booby
The mud-spattered thoughts were too offensive and off it flew.

Masked Booby
With two boobies around and the hot, still weather, it was feeling like the Caribbean out there, so not surprising that Bridled Terns also put in a good showing.

Bridled Tern
Otherwise, the weekend provided the usual summer pelagic species found off Hatteras.

Great Shearwaters
Cory's Shearwater (with Masked Booby)

A north wind turned the ocean into a roller coaster on Saturday which brought a lot more Black-capped Petrels in close to the boat.

I rate myself a pretty lousy sea bird photographer and this pic captures my lack of skill, while at the same time the Black-capped Petrel essence.  They're so fast it's all I can do to keep one in frame!

Black-capped Petrel - has places to go
The Saturday trip also offered some good looks at Band-rumped Storm-Petrel, which we missed entirely on Friday.

Thanks to Brian Patteson and Kate Sutherland for organizing the trips and making it a fun weekend.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Three more NC birds with one stone

Last post I said this would never happen again: three NC birds ticked in one day.  Yet, here we are just a couple months later and its deja vu with the blog titles.

North Carolina birders had been bemoaning a relatively long drought of exciting chase-able rarities.  Such negative feelings apparently made an impression upon the birding gods, which conjured in relatively short succession a couple of cooperative mind-bogglers (1st and 5th state records).

So the day began innocently enough.  Natalia and I set off after work toward Grandfather Mountain for a leisurely mountain chase trip.  But as we were passing through Burlington I got word of a Western Kingbird just 15 minutes north of Winston-Salem.

Within an hour I was staring at a NC bird that had many times eluded me--what birders would call a nemesis bird.

Western Kingbird, First Forsyth County Record (and an odd NC record for mid-august)

August is an especially weird time for one of these western vagrants to show up.  October would be typical and they are far more frequently found along the coast.

Western Kingbird, Forsyth County, NC

After Natalia and I watched this odd kingbird zip out of sight behind a barn, there were no subsequent sightings that afternoon or the following day.  A less-than one-day wonder.  And finally a WEKI that let me see it before vanishing.

After a night camping in the mountains near Boone, we were up early to be one of the first to enter Grandfather Mountain.  After a short wait at the iconic Swinging Bridge we were greeted by North Carolina's 1st documented Townsend's Solitaire.

Townsend's Solitaire, Grandfather Mountain, NC
August was a weird time for this bird to show up here.  Typically when this atypical species is discovered as an East Coast vagrant, it's the dead of winter.

Townsend's Solitaire, Grandfather Mountain, NC

Grandfather Mountain executive director, Jesse Pope is a keen birder and has been all over this bird and keeping Carolina Birders appraised of its comings and goings (Curtis Smalling of Audubon North Carolina was the original finder).  Jesse says it has been very loyal to the patch of spruce trees in the vicinity of the swinging bridge.  Could the bridges squeaks, reminiscent of solitaire song, have called it over to NC from the western mountains of its home range?

As a bonus, the spruce cones at Grandfather have produced a bumper crop this season, setting up prime conditions for viewing the elusive and erratic Appalachian Red Crossbill.

Red Crossbill, Grandfather Mountain, NC

These birds' specially evolved crossed bill used for prying open cones are an evolutionary fascination.

Red Crossbills, Grandfather Mountain, NC

This was a lifer for Natalia as well.

Since things had been going so smoothly, we decided to swing by upper Lake Norman on our way back east to try and catch up with NC's 5th Limpkin record.  We had to rent a kayak and paddle a couple miles upstream to get to the muddy cove it has been haunting the past couple weeks.

Thankfully our blistered fingers and paddle-sore shoulders were not in vain and this Floridian beauty made a show of bashing open mussels right before our eyes.

Limpkin, Iredell County, NC

I had always thought that the limited range of large snails (i.e. Apple Snails) is what limited the extent of Limpkins in the US, but this lost individual has apparently been subsisting on mussels for some time.

Limpkin, Iredell County, NC

Another pair of birders was out kayaking to see the Limpkin this day and the owner of Long Island Paddle Sports called the bird a 'godsend' for all the business it has brought him.  He joked about importing flamingoes so he could enjoy another birder bump.

Limpkin, Iredell County, NC

Speaking of birder bumps, the one at Grandfather over the past few days has been substantial.  Jesse estimated at least 100 birders have visited specifically to see the first state record Townsend's Solitaire.  At $20 per head entrance fee, that's not an insignificant windfall for the non-profit.  It will continue to balloon as long as the bird continues to stay faithful to its copse of spruce by the bridge.

For me, this trio of unexpected birds was a personal windfall of sorts.  Not that I expect the checks to begin showing up in the mail, but if new NC birds keep coming in threes maybe one day I'll crack 400.