Shorebirds Highlight Spring Trip to Outer Banks
Forsyth Audubon’s spring trip to the outer Banks was a success despite competition from Biker Week and a Pea Island NationalWildlife Refuge that is still seriously impaired from a couple of hurricane hits.
We stopped at the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) Visitor Center in Columbia, NC at midday and walked the boardwalk accompanied by the songs of Prothonotary Warblers. The next stop was Alligator River NWR where it was pretty quiet until Kitty Jensen spotted a mama black bear and 3 cubs.
Nags Head was anything but quiet. We arrived at the start of Biker Week and there were hundreds of two-wheelers filling up parking lots of restaurants, motels and bars – especially bars - all the way to Corolla. Our base of operation was directly across Hwy 12 from Audubon NC’s Pine Island sanctuary at Corolla. We went for a short walk there where we saw and heard the first of many Marsh Wrens – their bubbling songs ringing through the reeds. Photo left - Betty Gray Davis, Bill Davis, Kitty Jensen, Ron Morris.
Saturday morning our first birding was at the boardwalk out into the Currituck Sound near the northernmost of NC’s lighthouses. A small mixed flock of Dowitchers - pictured right - probed the mud close by and allowed us to study them till we were confident in our ID of both Long-billed and Short-billed. Shorebird identification can be difficult, requiring close analysis of field marks, habitat, feedig behavior and vocalization. Differentiating dowitchers can be particularly difficult, especially when they are not in full breeding plumage.
The water was a bit high for some shorebirds at the Bodie Island ponds, but there were plenty of Lesser Yellowlegs and a few Greaters. Another of the trip highlights was a quartet of elegant Black-necked Stilts. As always, there were lots of waders: Snowy and Greater Egrets, Tri-colored and Great Blue Herons and White Ibises.
The next morning, we began again at the Currituck boardwalk where Royal and Common Terns vied with Laughing, Bonaparte’s and Ring-billed Gulls for roosts on stick-ups. Ospreys were the trash bird for the weekend, but one was especially entertaining as is bathed in shallow water a few yards from us.
We made another stop at Bodie Island where we found two of the trip highlights. Two Little Blue Herons waded the waters, their brilliant breeding dress looking like neon. But the best bird of the trip was found by Betty Gray Davis. A Sora - pictured right - foraged directly under the observation platform not 30 feet from us. It would spook back into the reeds every few minutes, but came back out several times giving us unparalleled views.
On the way down the island strand, we stopped at the south end of Oregon Inlet where we found a few Oystercatchers, a dozen Semipalmated Plovers, and a single Black Skimmer on a sand spit with hundreds of cormorants.
Everyone’s favorite Outer Banks birding hotspot –the North Pond at Pea Island – was gravely disappointing. Breaches by Hurricanes Irene in 2011 and Sandy in 2012 have severely altered the shallow freshwater ponds and there were very few birds there. Repair work is underway and we can only hope that this and other Pea Island habitats will be restore din our birding lifetimes. The Osprey nest, left, was at Pine Island, but they also frequent Pea Island.
Monday brought lots of rain for our drive back home, but David Shuford, Kitty Jensen and I soldiered on to Mattamuskeet NWR in spite of it. We were rewarded by several more bird species, best among them, a flock of 50 Glossy Ibises.
Many thanks to Bill and Betty Gray Davis, Kitty Jensen and David Shuford for sharing a trip to one of our greatest NC birding destinations.
Special thanks to David for putting together the trip list and for providing the photos above.
Submitted by Trip Leader Ron Morris
For more trip photos, check our Photo Gallery.
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