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The end times, pt 2

January 6, 2009

The next morning dawned clear, warm, and beautiful. As much as I would have liked to spend the whole day sitting on the beach waiting for that one Parasitic Jaeger flyby that was absolutely certain to happen (right?), the family was heading out on the ferry to Ocracoke Island.

Fortunately, the ferry can be a pretty good place from which to find birds, and sitting on the sun side out of the wind, the three of us, my dad, my mother-in-law and me, put binoculars on nearly every single bird that could be seen from the boat.

Unfortunately, and perhaps indicative of the big year thus far, the birds weren’t cooperating. Well, that’s in the sense of being new, we got nice looks at the Pelicans, Corms, gulls, and Buffleheads along the coasts. The desired Brant were nowhere to be seen, and if the CBC reports are any indication, they weren’t easy to come by anywhere on the coast this year, but a decoy that had floated up to the beach near the ferry terminal gave us pause. Those things are way too realistic.

No matter though, the drive from the ferry terminal to the village of Ocracoke passes through some nice salt marshes. And on one pond exposed by the low tides I spotted an American Bittern out in the open as we drove by. Expecting an opportunity for an awesome picture I convinced my dad to whip the car around and check it out. We arrived at the pond only to spook the Bittern and it flew off over the marsh. Still counts though.

We had a nice time at the village, had the requisite seafood lunch, and headed back. I was looking for a colony of exotic doves in the village, and my dad had even heard what was likely the bird (I missed it), and it was with no small amount of trepidation did I leave without it. But thankfully, on the way back, not far from the pond where I spotted the Bittern, a Eurasian Collared-Dove flew past, heading back towards civilization and the spilled garbage on which they feed.

The rest of the evening we watched dolphins from the beach, and I got my dad on some Surf Scoters flying by, a life bird for him, before the sun set behind us with only one day left in the year.

With one day left and one bird left for 300, I hooked up once again with my friends the Moores, the retired couple known to many birders in North Carolina as eager chauffeurs out to Cape Point, the elbow of the island and one of the best birding spots in the area. The weather, however, did not make birding easy with sustained 35-40 mph gales gusting to 70. You couldn’t even get out of the car for fear of being sandblasted free of splinters. Good for lumber, bad for birders.

The gulls were few, and those that stayed were huddled down. The Salt Pond, a dredged out pond halfway out to the point, was covered in Cormorants unable or unwilling to fight the wind to the ocean. They were so thick you could practically walk across the water on their backs. It wasn’t worth spending lots of time out on the water in such foul (or un-fowl) conditions but we did happen upon a large group of Bonaparte’s Gulls, each turned into the wind on stiff outstretched wings, pattering on the surface of the waves like Storm-Petrels. I’d never seen that before, and it was worth the trip out to the point even if the flock didn’t contain any Little or Black-headed Gulls.

As we headed home I convinced the family to make another pass through Alligator River NWR, where, on a CBC the very day before, folks had found a Swainson’s Hawk. All four of us, including even my non-birding mother and wife (who has quite the sharp eyes it should be noted), combed through every raptor we could find, and in the wind it was a lot, but failed to find the hawk. We went home.

So the year finished for me at 299, one shy of a relatively arbitrary, but notable, goal. I learned a lot about Big Year birding, something I’ll go into in more depth later this week. It’s a surprisingly difficult undertaking, and you learn a lot about yourself as a birder in doing it. I certainly did.

Even though I didn’t come close to breaking the old record of 348, another birder did. Derb Carter of Chapel Hill finished the year with a very impressive 352, the new mark for North Carolina birders to crack. I may try it again someday, not for a while though. In the meantime, thanks for following along with me.

My 2009 list is already underway with no goals to accomplish and no totals to reach. That feels pretty good.

  1. corey permalink
    January 6, 2009 8:26 am

    As I said on facebook, ouch.

    But it was worth it, nonetheless, right?

  2. January 6, 2009 9:02 am

    Yeah, it was fun. I saw a lot of new birds and a lot of North Carolina.

    I can’t be held responsible for $4 gas, can I? Cause that’s totally what I’m blaming 299 on.

  3. Greg permalink
    January 6, 2009 1:13 pm

    It was a pleasure to be there with you on this journey, even as the elusive 300th species escaped your bins. Thanks for your patience and expertise in getting me four lifers! Life list now stands at 405…… that’s a long way from the coveted 500! Have to get to SE Arizona one of these days!

  4. Will permalink
    January 6, 2009 2:43 pm

    Like Corey said… Ouch.

    But hey you got to see a lot of North Carolina, got to go to places you never thought you would go and got to see a lot of cool (even if common) birds. What more could you ask for?

  5. January 6, 2009 4:04 pm

    @dad- We need to get to AZ, I was going to suggest this summer, but we’re going to be a little busy…

    @will- That’s precisely what happened. It was a pretty good year regardless.

  6. John permalink
    January 6, 2009 10:25 pm

    Congratulations on getting so close to 300… it’s lot more than I saw last year.

  7. Christopher permalink
    January 7, 2009 10:38 am

    So very close – but then, that’s one reason why we do this. The number itself is a bit arbitrary, but it helps get us out and looking, and that’s the best part!
    2009 is obviously going to be a great year for you – who knows what birds it may bring too?

  8. Jochen permalink
    January 7, 2009 10:39 am


    No way!!

    You have seen all three coastal Ammodramus sparrows. If your year’s list was restricted to these three, it would still be an excellent year!
    Yeah, I’ll have to visit NC soon, I know, I know…

  9. January 7, 2009 11:41 am

    @john- thanks!

    @christopher- Absolutely! My personal goal for the year is to work on my ABA list when I can. I’m bearing down on 500 and I’d like to reach that by the end of the year. Massachussetts will help me no small bit to that end.

    @jochen- The invitation is open, the beer is on me.

  10. pinguinus permalink
    January 7, 2009 2:44 pm

    Arbitrary numbers are arbitrary, and I’m not just saying that because 238 is about the most arbitrary number imaginable. It was still a good year to read about!

  11. Jochen permalink
    January 8, 2009 3:28 am

    Thanks for the beer, but I’ll try to bring a few bottles of German beer over when I visit. One of the bottles has to go to pinguinus for last winter’s Florida post, but the rest is for us.

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