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What’s a Mattamuskeet?

February 12, 2008

Nuthin’, what’s a matta with you?

Go back to my post yesterday. You don’t have to read the whole thing, just the last paragraph, the part where I state that my trip east is going to be great. Hell, even the title implies some sort of bird wonderland that I’m heading into. I went into my trip yesterday with four A-1, capital letter, underlined target birds. While my potential for new birds was certainly higher, I had in mind species that I would be unlikely to get elsewhere in the state. The fab four were Cackling Goose, Black-headed Gull, Rough-legged Hawk, and Greater White-fronted Goose. All reported within the week, all ripe for the picking.

I’m the first to admit that I’ve been pretty lucky hitting my target species so far this year, but those who have been birding for more than a month know that it’s best not to push your luck because sometimes the birds, they just aren’t there. I should have known that I was due for a clunker.

Mattamuskeet is still a pretty special place. It’s an enormous lake in area, but very shallow. There is a nearly five mile causeway that bisects the lake right across the middle. The causeway is often the best place for birds as it not only gives you a means to access the middle of a very large lake, but also tends to funnel the birds along the roadside. There are several pull offs and a fair amount of vegetation so you’ll often find some interesting warblers, even in the winter, such as the the Orange-crowned Warbler I picked up on this particular trip

It was a gull I was looking for though, one in particular. The Black-headed Gull that has wintered at Mattamuskeet for several years prefers to hang out on the third culvert heading north. I’ve never had good luck with this bird, this trip would be the fourth that I’ve taken to find this individual. The lake was dead but for the omnipresent Tundra Swans, and while a 2nd cycle Bonaparte’s Gull caused me to pause, it turned out to have pink legs instead of the red I was looking for. Three trips back and forth with no bird. Strike one. I did see loads of Wilson’s Snipe though.

Also recently reported at the lake were several Cackling Geese within the larger Canada Goose flock. It took me forever to find the Canadas and when I did I tucked in, determined to pick out those little needles in the haystack. The duck diversity was pretty good here, within the Canada flock were lots of Green-winged Teal, Gadwall, American Wigeon, and the biggest flock of Canvasback I’d seen in North Carolina. The geese seemed content to tuck in and ignore all comers which made picking the little ones out practically impossible, and no amount of scoping would suffice. Strike two.

So with Mattamuskeet behind me I headed north to Alligator River NWR, which has been pretty hot of late. I turned down Milltail Road to be greeting by even more Tundra Swans. But it to the skies my eyes were turned, for the Rough-legged Hawk that has been a semi-regular winter resident. There were several Tree Swallows and the raptors were pretty good, lots of Harriers, plus Red-tailed, Cooper’s and Red-shouldered Hawks, and Bald Eagles. But even though I desperately wanted to turn an especially pale Red-tail into a Roughleg, the bird was not there. Strike three, I’m on my way out.

I decided to make one last stop at an out of the way pond, a decision that ended up saving what had been a disappointing day. Sitting amongst the Tundra Swans, just across the way from a backhoe loudly dredging a new canal, were at least seven Greater White-fronted Geese. Sure they had their heads tucked back into their feathers like so many other waterfowl I’d seen during the day, but as my mom would say, beggars can’t be choosers.

Even though the day had turned cold again, the warmer season was definitely in the air. The Egrets and Herons at the lake were beginning to show some really nice plumes. Waterfowl numbers were way down, and those left were busy bobbing heads, flapping wings, and displaying, and a pair of Red-tailed Hawks were busy unashamedly copulating and otherwise pair-bonding at Alligator River. Spring will be here before you know it. All I ask is that it stays winter for one more week.

  1. noflickster permalink
    February 12, 2008 2:10 pm

    I hate to admit this, but that sounds like one of my birding trips. Great location/habitat, great birds overall, but the targets only partially cooperative.

    I will try and send you some of our current winter if it would help – I’m enjoying the increased numbers at our feeders, but man, I’m ready for some more comfortable birding weather!
    – Mike

  2. Greg permalink
    February 12, 2008 3:49 pm

    Great snipe photo!

  3. February 12, 2008 6:29 pm


    That’s exactly what it was. I’ve had fantastic days at Mattamuskeet and some so-so days, this just happened to be the second.

    I hope the winter birds stick for one more week as I’ve got a pelagic this weekend and the opportunity to hit these places one more time on my way home from that. Maybe I’ll have better luck, maybe I’ll be scrambling for birds in November. Oh well.

    I saw so many of these things, they must be moving. They’re great subjects because they prefer to stand still instead of flush. Makes for plenty of opportunities to get the shot.

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