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Beach Blanket Wing-o

October 30, 2007
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Compared to my last trip to Wilmington, North Carolina, in August, Sunday’s jaunt was cool and serene and perhaps, most enjoyable for me, full of birds. As a midwesterner born and raised I’m still amazed by the sea, especially when I consider all of the birds I’ve seen on the coast since I became a regular NC birder. Of the 45 lifers I’ve gotten in the state of North Carolina, all but maybe 8 have been coastal or pelagic species. There’s so much left for me to get too, and it’s all as easy as pointing a scope out on the ocean and hoping something cool runs across it. So yeah, the sea? Love it.

I especially love it in the winter, when the people are fewer and the birds are everywhere. With two non-birders along for the ride I didn’t want to push it but even just having lunch on the sand we were surrounded by Laughing, Ring-billed, Great Black-backed and Herring Gulls. Forster’s and Royal Terns and Brown Pelicans flew back and forth over the breakers, and off in the distance large flocks of Northern Gannets could be seen, a glimpse of what will eventually become the most common winter off-shore sight all up and down the Carolina coast. A couple Sanderlings ran back and forth along the tideline, occasionally showing remarkable trust in allowing us to get close enough for photos.

Seawatching was productive not only for the Gannets, which was a lifer for my dad just as it was for me when I first got to the coast in winter, we were lucky to catch a pair of Black Scoters as they buzzed the pier, the only ones we’d see all day. There was one place on the island I was excited to hit though, if the non-birders among us would abide. Up on the very north end of Wrightsville Beach is an inlet surrounded by estuarine mudflats. It’s always been a great place for shorebirds when the beach was slow and there were a few I wanted to try to find, some lifers for my dad, some year birds for me, and all just all-around cool birds to look at. We parked at the public access and walked all the way up to the top of the island where the birds were sitting just as I hoped they would. There was an enormous flock of Black Skimmers, mixed with Royal Terns and Laughing Gulls. Among the Larids, Willets, Short-billed Dowitchers, American Oystercatchers, Sanderlings, and Least Sandpipers scoured the flats, but there was one in particular….there! Behind the Dowitchers and actively foraging with a Black-bellied Plover were two Red Knots, hard birds to find in North Carolina anymore and looking to get harder.

I could’ve stayed a lot longer perusing the shorebirds congregated on the shore but as is the case when the focus isn’t birding, I had to cut my losses and head back. Along the shore on the walk though were two little Piping Plovers, easily lost in the pale sand. An older couple stopped to look back and take a photo when I called out the name. They’ll probably show the pic to their friends and say it was a Piper Rover or something, but as long as they don’t run over it with their truck I suppose they’re doing better than many other beach-goers in North Carolina. That was the end of the birding for the day, a possible trip down to look for Sharp-tailed Sparrows never materialized, but it likely won’t be long before I had down there myself to pick them up.

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4 Comments
  1. Sniderman permalink
    October 30, 2007 4:04 pm

    The Red Knots are a great find. Last time we were @ OIB, we saw 5… one with a band.

  2. Greg permalink
    October 30, 2007 4:16 pm

    Great post! Glad I was there to share photos with you! You were an excellent guide! I would have only gotten 2 (maybe 3) of my four lifers without you. But the Knots? Not! I’ll put in an order for a closer look next time!

    Looks like I owe you at least one lifer when you come out to Missouri in December! What shall it be? Hopefully, some goodies from the north country! Northern Shrike entered Missouri today!

  3. October 30, 2007 4:36 pm

    If you can get me LeConte’s Sparrow like you say you can, I’ll be a happy man. Anything else would be gravy, I don’t suppose you can rustle up some longspurs can you?

  4. Greg permalink
    October 30, 2007 9:39 pm

    I’ll certainly do some research. I think there is a somewhat reliable place for Laplands out by Lockwood. Of course, Riverlands reports them nearly every winter.
    I’ll put out an inquiry on Mo-Birds when the time draws nearer.

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