The Big East-y
Following the annual Wings over Water bird festival on the Outer Banks, lots of good birds were reported in the area. That those birds were not reported in a timely matter was the subject of much hand-wringing on the local listserve this week. I wrote about a similar situation in this space a couple weeks ago, so I’m on record (kind of) about such situations. In short, I fail to see how a bird festival is better served by keeping interesting sightings a secret. There are birders in the state who might not have the time or money to take several days off to pay to bird on the coast, but might be able to get out for one quick day. Additionally, failing to even mention on the listserve that the festival is upcoming doesn’t do much to attract relatively new birders to the area. One can’t go to a festival one doesn’t know about. It’s an example of the occasionally insular nature of the birding establishment in the state. I could go on, it’s frustrating, but I digress…
Annnnnnyway, there were several interesting birds seen, the news of which only came out recently. So I waited all week to get out again to the coast, and with my wife out of town, the timing couldn’t have been better. Well before dawn I schlepped out to the coast in the hopes that a recent cold front had deposited some birds on my doorstep, or at least, hadn’t cleared out the ones already there. I arrived at Pea Island around 8:30 to find a battering wind and lots of returning waterfowl on the pond. The Tundra Swans, those bastions of winter on the coast, were there in good numbers, along with Buffledheads, both Scaup, and smaller numbers of Gadwall, Wigeon and Black Ducks.
The wind was brutal though, forgot how fierce it can be out there, and several times I had to hold down my scope to keep it from tumbling over. With little of note on the ponds I headed over to the seaward side, and set up to look out on the ocean. A couple groups of Scoters breezed by, mostly Blacks but the big-schnozzed, skunk headed Surfs were easy to pick out when present. The horizon was packed with Gannets, many coming pretty close to the shore. But the jeagers I had hoped would be harassing them were no shows, or possible so far out I couldn’t make them out through my wobbly, wind-blown scope view.
There were of course, gulls, the winter regular Great Black-backs, Ring-bills, Herrings, and Bonies fighting it out with a few lingering Laughing Gulls. I managed to find a couple Lesser Black-backs, including one sitting on a bridge pylon next to traffic. Once rare, they’re getting damn near as pushy as the others on the Banks anymore. The ABA recently demoted them to a Code 2 bird for good reason.
I left pea Island without the White-faced Ibis and Brewer’s Blackbird that had been reported, victims of the cold front, perhaps? Oregon Inlet was not particularly productive either due to a considerable dredging operation under the Bonner Bridge. The bridge itself is one of the most dangerous in the nation and desperately needs to be replaced. It’s the same old thing on the Banks, the inlet has been steadily moving south over the years (because it’s a freaking barrier island and that’s what they do) and instead of outlying the money to build a new long bridge that would solve the problem, the state decides to just replace the short bridge and spend money every single year to dredge out the channel anew in a losing battle with nature. More here. Job security for the dredging companies I guess…
Anyway, I set up on the beach to look again for birds, finding only this Willet who had, like me, decided to take shelter on the leeward side of the groin. Great minds think alike I guess. To get an idea of how windy it was, I spotted a Merlin above who couldn’t even beat the breeze, eventually turning back after making nearly zero progress.
It wasn’t a total loss, at the Oregon Inlet Fishing Center, where all the fishing boats are docked, I re-found the reported Long-tailed Duck, a sharp male, floating peaceful just beyond the boat ramp. It was very close, and as I walked to get a little closer to get a cool photo for this blog, a guy stopped me to ask about my scope. I talked with him for about 30 seconds, and when I turned, the Duck was gone. Serves me right for trying to be the friendly birder. I should have just been a jerk, everyone hates us on the Outer Banks anyway because they blame us for closing beaches. *sigh*
The Boddie lighthouse ponds were full of dabblers, and I managed to pick out a male Eurasian Wigeon from a big flock of Yankee Wigeons. Amazingly my third Euro Wigeon of the year, all on the Outer Banks. Like the Lesser BB Gull, they’re getting fairly common as well, leave it to the ABA to downgrade them too. Hey ABA, you’re taking all my rare birds!
On the way home I swung my Lake Mattamuskeet to try for the Ash-throated Flycatcher that had been reported just earlier that week. It would have been an awesome bird for my year, but after about an hour walking up and down the line of brush where it had been seen, pishing like a mad man (it had reportedly responded to pishing), I gave up after pulling out nothing but a pair of Orange-crowned Warbler. Now just watch it show up again next week…
Mattamuskeet is famous for its waterfowl, and there were huge groups of Pintail in addition to all the ducks I’d seen earlier, a real treat, they’re probably my favorite duck. The Lake was full of Swans though, here’s a group that was close to the road.
So one long day on the coast, and only one new bird to show for it. I think I might be ready to stop judging the worth of my birding outings by whether or not I get new birds for the year, because other than that it was a pretty good day.
I still would have liked that Flycatcher though, I’m not gonna lie.