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Pea Brain: Vol 1

January 21, 2008

Sorry for the late start today folks. I got home from this trip rather late last night and I didn’t feel like writing something right then. I beg forgiveness. So without further ado…

If there was ever any question as to whether Orville and Wilbur Wright were wise to chose the Outer Banks of North Carolina for their famous first powered flight, let it be known that after my trip there this past weekend I can personally vouch for that decision. It’s the wind dear reader(s). The wind. I had hoped that the same wind that just over 100 years ago lifted the canvas wings of the Flyer I off the beach would bring me down some goodies from far afield and so I woke at 5:00 am (the birder’s hour) and headed east.

It’s always windy on the Outer Banks, you know that going in. But after a jet stream powered surge across North Carolina bringing snow (snow!?!?) to Chapel Hill and points east, it was especially so, and bitterly cold besides (that’s for NC mind you). With temperatures hovering around freezing all day and snow in the air, I thought maybe the situation was right for some auks, especially Dovekie. Let me just spoil the story right off the bat then. There was no Dovekie. In fact, the ocean was swelling around 10 feet just off shore. Birds were hunkered down and seawatching was a hairy predicament. I scarcely spotted anything but Gannets off shore, and low numbers of those. Even then I was fighting to keep my scope from reenacting that first flight. But there were still birds though, as I soon found on my first stop at Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge.

Pea Island is a phenomenal bird stop and probably my favorite of the fantastic refuges in eastern NC (seriously, one of the best places in the US in the winter). At my first stop I pulled off the road to find a group of American Avocets bundled up against the gale. Nice birds, hard to find anywhere else in Carolina. This is why you come to Pea Island. I spent the next few hours scoping the three huge ponds on the refuge finding nearly all the regularly occurring dabbling ducks, American White Pelicans, a pair of Mute Swans (still counts!), Wilson’s Snipe, and all the waders with the exception of Cattle Egret (it’s very odd watching Little Blue Herons in the blowing snow). Edit to add: and Night Herons, didn’t seen them either. Oh, and Bitterns too, crap. I should just say I saw Egrets.

A flock of around 2000 Redheads headlined the diving ducks, but I got all the others save Lesser Scaup which should be easy later and Common Merganser, which is tougher. There was a small group of Snow Geese hanging out next to the road. I saw the large flock as well, but they were too far away to pick out a Ross’.  A nice surprise was a pair of “Ipswich” Savannah Sparrows foraging in the grass. If the AOU ever splits that again I’ll get an armchair tick. There were loads of American Wigeon though, and I thought that with a little persistence against the gale I might be able to pick up something different. I was right, in a small group of Wigeon and Coots I spotted the rufous cheeks of a Eurasian Wigeon, a lifer for me and a bird I’ve been frustrated by in the past at this very refuge. It was a bit too far to take a good picture and the light was bad besides, but there was no mistaking that bird.

On the north side of that same pond I ran into more Wigeon and Pintail, and amazingly, a second drake Eurasian Wigeon. This one was much closer and in better light so I got the photo to the right (click on it to make it big). You can see the Euro in with the Yanks, slightly smaller it seemed to me and gray instead of brown. Just before spotting this bird I had run into a birder who was looking specifically for Euro Wigeon. He reminded me of me on my previous trips to Pea Island, the hungry Wigeon searching eyes, the sweaty duckless hands (sweat turning immediately to ice in the cold). I, basking in cool post-Wigeon serenity, sent him towards the first bird I saw. 20 minutes later I spotted this second bird that I photographed. When it rains, it pours I guess. In any case, I had nailed my first target bird, on to the second.

I’ll save that till tomorrow. You’ll have to check back then.

One Comment
  1. Greg permalink
    January 21, 2008 5:19 pm

    Great photo of a great bird! Want to sell that scope? (:

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