Cape Hatteras : 18 May - 1 June (part 2- other birds and things)

This is the second part of the Cape Hatteras trip account and inorder to help with orientation, click on the map on the right to
amplify it. Strictly speaking, Cape Hatteras and the Outer Banks start just where there is the right angle in the road at the top of the map, a little above where is says something about the Wright Brothers and their first flights at Kitty hawk (a national monument) and contnues for many miles until one arrives at the village of Hatteras in the south, just before the sound which separates the island of Ocracoke. All this is a national reserve with some large beach areas totally closed off to visitors by the National Park Service in order to protect the breeding areas of plovers and terns, and also this year a pair of American Oystercatchers (which I failed to see), much to the annoyance of the off-road 4WD fraternity who believe it is their god-given right to go where they please and who blast their horns at any birders they see, some of whom reply with a single finger salute.

I highly recommend possession of 'Where to watch birds in North Carolina' and the copying of the relevant pages in view of the weight of the book. As I was going to have little free 'not-at-sea' time I decided to concentrate on the southern part from the splendid Pea Island, so good that I visited it thrice, on the Water Association Road to the north of Buxton and also the the salt ponds. I was also later to visit Bodie island and Alligator Swamp on the return to Coinjock and Norfolk but with the thermometer at more than 35ºC and an exceedingly high humidity, to which there were assaults by the combined airforces of mosquitoes and deer flies which take out lumps of flesh, and that in spite of using the highy recommended insecticide Off which was supposed to keep them clear, as well as the hordes of ticks. For the first time in my life I have actually been bitten by ticks, three of the unspeakable little creatures, but none really managed to get a hold and start to have a suck of the Paterson blood. Perhaps the high coffee content in my blood stream kept them at bay? However, the area does harbour Lyme's Disease and other undesirable infections and if one really is bitten and sucked, consultation with a doctor would be advisable, especially if a rash apears around the bite.

I arrived Coinjock at Coinjock the nigt of 17 May and the following morning, 18 May, almost the first bird I saw was this well coloured Barn Swallow (L) whose colouration was very different and cntrasted notably with all the others. There was also a nest at each end of the small motel building (R).
LIke any good birder, I was wandering around with my binoculars and noting down the first species, such as the Purple Martin (L) and the American Robin (R) when a old lady invited me to have an early morning coffee (the best all the trip, they do not know how to make good coffee and Starbuck's is unspeakably bad) with her on her porch. Towmore of her neighbours joined us and they were fascinated by the idea that a Brit. living in Spain should come and see the birds in their area. There is almost a Purple Martin cult, as many homes have a Purple Martin apartment block in the garden, with various sections for this colonial species. This is not quite as altruistic as is sounds, as the Martins undoubtedly take vast number of obnoxious insects.

There too I saw the one and only Eastern Bluebird of the trip but it was very wary and did not allow me to get sufficiently near for a photograph. There were also the first first European Starlings of the trip (big deal!) and also Northern Mockingbirds (R above), enchanting birds, one of which in Hatteras often stated singing at 03.30 in the morning! There to I saw my first ever House Finch (R), a superbly coloured little male, and all of these carrying on life whilst an Osprey (above L) patrolled the river in search of breakfast.
But it was time for me to move south.I stopped briefly at Kitty Hawk and paid $4 to see the monumento to the Wright Brothers,well laid out and full of gawping tourists but time enough to see the first of several Brown-headed Cowbirds (L, photo at Pea Island). My first real programmed stop was at Pea Island with other stops on the way.
Pea Island is a variety of habitats, some open to the public by trails, others totally closed off in the interests of the birds. The water areas, the impoundments, can have their water levels regulated by sluices in the best interests of the migratory waders (water birds to the Americans although some illuminated do call them waders). There is a visitors' centre with ample information,maps and checklists, no less than four Zeiss 85 'scopes for observation from the centre, although cleaning the windows would have helped considerably, and a well marked pathwich leads to a raised platfor from where one can look out over further marshland with saw grass (it was there I saw the only American Bittern of the trip). Indeed, most of the waders and the herons, egrets and so on, I saw there, as well as a decent number of passerines.

The only waders seen outside the Pea Island area where the Whimbrel (American race), Sanderling - these in breeding plumage (R), Killdeer (L) and Piping and Kentish/Snowy Plovers, plus a Grey/Black-bellied Plover and some 50 plus (Red) Knot in a variety of plumages on a sand bar by the sound to the open sea,and not forgetting the 3 Red-necked Phalaropes we saw at least 30 miles out to sea heading northwards. I trust that you have noted the evident bilinguistic aspect of this report here!

In the inundated area, and they are large, of Pea Island there were not just the waders but a oodly selection of herons and egrets. To start with the waders, there were considerable numbers, various hundreds without a doubt, of Semipalmeated Sandpipers (R) and a few Greater Yellowlegs (L), in competition with the Black-necked Stilts (L). There were a few pairs of Semipalmeated Plovers and in the photo (R) the palmeated base to the toes clearly vsible. Another wader seen both there and on the beach was the Willet and there were examples of both the eastern and western races, while along the water's edges on Pea Island and also at the Buxton Salt Ponds there were also a few Dunlin, Least and White-rumped Sandpipers, plus a few Short-billed Dowitchers, with one or two in breeding plumage although I only managed one of this bird still in winter plumage (L).

Waders aside, there was also a good variety of terns at Pea Island. Leaving aside the Arctic and Bridled Terns seen at sea, there no less than 7 more, headed by the enormous Caspian Tern (L) down to the diminutive Least Tern, American version of the Little, with the delightful Royal Tern, Gull-billed, Sandwich, Forster's and Common to make up a respectable total of 9 tern species, which is not bad by anyone's standards.

And if Pea Island was not bad for terns, it was positively good for egrets, herins and the like, with no less than 12 species ranging from the solitary examples of American and Least Bitterns (this their version of our Little Bittern and I had seen neither since Andros in 1971!) and the same went for the Little Blue Heron, with daily observations of these and Great White Egrets (R) and Tricolored Heron, the ubiquous Cattle Egret and a Green Heron, also seen along the Water Association Road, the beautiful Snowy Egret, the giant Great Blue Heron, a single Black-crowned Nightheron which overflew and a few Glossy Ibises which were outnumbered by daily sightings of several White Ibises (L).

Neither must the passerines be overlooked on Pea Island as we both heard and saw the noisey Song Sparrow (L) but only heard an equally noisey Carolina Wren, in spite of being almost on top of it at times. And as ever, the accompanying background noise of the multiple and varied calles of the Red-winged Blackbirds, these wherever one goes on the Outer Banks. On the other hand, the presence of the Rufous-sided Towhees (R) was much more limited.

At Buxton, the road off to the old light on the north side of the village is very fruitful because of a short trail through the woods by the parking space on the right, although knowing the calls would be a huge asset. I visited the tiny British sailors' cemetery with its two headstones, one unknown sailor of the Royal Navy and one from the Merchant Navy and an informative plaque (L). Further on, taking the turn to the camp site or, better parking by the pond on the leftand then walking, take the track to ramp 44 and then a short path through the bushes, although this had been opened out by my last visit. Here one must take care as there are poisonous snakes, including water mocassins, these are highly poisonous.

It was there that I was able to photograph these female King Rail (R), not brilliantly as it was hardly sunrise. There was also a very bonny example of Eastern Meadowlark which showed well in the now risen sun (L). It was in the Salt Pond and on the nearby roped-off beach that a Park Service warden had reported seeing a Red-billed Tropicbird whose nearest nesting grounds are in Puerto Rico whilst we wee there but none that I knew had seen it. What we did see was a nice male Black Scoter with its enormous yellow protuberance on the upper mandible, and as earlier we had seen a female White-winged Scoter near the harbour entrance these weretwo nice and rather unexpected additions to the list. There too were more Least Terns, Gull-billed Terns and various waders, including Short-billed Dowitchers, and several female Black Ducks, each with a flotilla of ducklings although some were somewhat reduced in number.
Before going to the last site I visited I must mention the presence of there spp., two of these the grackles, the Common (above L) and the Boat-tailed with its white eye (above R), this a recent coloniser according to Brian. They too were everywhere and the males of each showed a magnficent irridescence when seen well in sunshine, apart from being quite noisey. Here too I should mention the presence of the Mourning Doves (above centre), also common as they either shuffled nosily along roadsides or sat together on wires and filled the air with the lugubrious call which sounded like mournful lighthouse with the mute on.

The last site I visited and have mentioned earlier is the Water Association Road, it too to the north of Buxton. It is best to go at first light, just after dawn, and to be well versed in the calls - something which I was not. It's not a long walk but can quite easily take an hour with all the necessary stops. It was along there that I saw the Cardinal, there were at least 3 pairs in little more than1 km. and one sp. which is not difficult to confuse! A Northern Flicker tried to demolish a dead tree briefly, the same one in which the Cardinal had perched and displayed and where the pair of Blue Jays, the one shown with its mouth full of nesting material (L), also used. A male Ruby-throated Hummingbird (below L) buzzed back and forth a couple of times and perched on the wire to warm up in the morning sun, something which I have seen hummers often do in the Bahamas.
All this is a very long list and I haven't mentioned the Grey Catbirds which were quite common, neither the two species of crow, the American and Fish Crows which were also common. I haven't said anything about the Sand Martin which passed us over 30 miles out to sea and which should have easily reached land, nor about the male Yellow Warbler (R) which landed on the boat at a similar distance, allowed itself to rest a while and be photographed but regrettably took off again. I doubt that it would have reached land.

I have said nothing about the return northwards when I visited Bodie Island - not really worth it - and also the Alligator Swamp to the west of Manteo when the access was restricted because of underground turf fires burning - we had smelled the smoke 35 miles out and 100 miles south one morning - and which was outstanding for a temerature of nearly 40ºC and the enormous biomass of mosquitos and deer flies which made life nearly impossible. The visit was redeemed only by the sighting of a pair of Turkey Vultures (L) and by a male Indigo Bunting. Discrection is better than valour when faced with such adversity.

I have said nothing about the marine mammals, of the Bottle-nosed and Spotted Dolphins and the Pilot Whales and the Sperm Whale (above L). Neither have mentioned the Portuguese Man o'War jellyfish (centre), floating happily along on the 4-5 knots of the Gulf Stream, nor of the turtles, including this splendid Leatherback (R) who kept yawning, obviously bored out of his mind and pondering on the meaning of life.

I had a great time and saw
a total of 109 species, according to my notes, which isn't bad considering that 2 days were spent travelling and there were only 3 for land birding, with 10 at sea where the specific variety is rather more limited.

Great Northern Dive, Fea’s Petrel, Black-capped Petrel, Cory’s Shearwater, Great Shearwater, Sooty Shearwater, Manx Shearwater, Audubon's Shearwater, Wilson’s Storm-petrel, European Storm-petrel, Leach’s Storm-petrel, Madeiran Storm-petrel, White-tailed Tropicbird, Brown Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, American Bittern, Least Bittern, Great Blue Heron, Great White Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Tricoloured Heron, Cattle Egret, Green Heron, Black-crowned Nightheron, Glossy Ibis, White Ibis, Mute Swan, Mallard, American Black Duck, Gadwall, Black Scoter, White-winged Scoter, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Red-tailed Hawk, Clapper Rail, King Rail, Grey Plover, Killdeer, Semipalmated Plover, Piping Plover, Snowy Plover, Black-necked Stilt, Greater Yellowlegs, Willet, Whimbrel, Turnstone, Sanderling, Knot, Dunlin, White-rumped Sandpiper, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitcher, Red-necked Phalarope, Pomarine Skua, Arctic Skua, Laughing Gull, American Herring Gull, Glaucous Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Caspian Tern, Gull-billed Tern, Royal Tern, Sandwich Tern, Common Tern, Forster’s Tern, Arctic Tern, Least Tern, Bridled Tern, Black Skimmer, Mourning Dove, Chimney Swift, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Northern Flicker, Eastern Wood Peewee, Great. Crested Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, Blue Jay, American Crow, Fish Crow, Barn Swallow, Bank Swallow, Tree Swallow, Purple Martin, Carolina Wren, Eastern Bluebird, American Robin, Grey Catbird, Northern Mockingbird, Brown Thrasher, European Starling, Yellow Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Blue Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, Northern Cardinal, Eastern Towhee, Seaside Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Eastern Meadowlark, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Boat-tailed Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird, House Sparrow, House Finch

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