30 July 2010

North Carolina - Part 2 of 3

When we finally crossed over into North Carolina, we aimed for the OBX for more birding and some time along the beaches.

Along the beaches in places like Nags Head, Kitty Hawk, Pea Island, and Bodie Island, we found many species of terns, shorebirds, and plenty of vacationers.

The most common bird we found along the beaches were the ubiquitous SANDERLINGS:

Not the most common shorebird but still very findable, there were several flocks of WHIMBREL along the beaches. I couldn't help myself from taking pictures of these small curlews, a relative of my study species:

Here is a GULL-BILLED TERN that zipped by:

Continuing on the theme of terns, we were surprised by the diversity (we ended the trip with 9 species of terns)! Here's a CASPIAN TERN:

Yep, if I wasn't scoping something or taking pictures along the beach, I was probably standing around like that, clearly lost and out of my element.

I'd be lying if I said the beaches only had birds. Here are some other random things I took pics of (no, I don't know the names of either):

Still singing plenty despite the 110+ degree heat indicies, there were many EASTERN TOWHEES seen throughout our trip:

... and PLENTY of herons and egrets. Here is a LITTLE BLUE HERON dancing it up:

...and a TRICOLORED HERON flying by at one of the marshes:

Any time we were around pines throughout our trip, the little southeastern BROWN-HEADED NUTHATCHES were not hard to find (in VA as well). Turns out, this was a new photo bird for me:

Another bird that was abundant throughout our trip were PURPLE MARTINS. I figured I might as well take a pic of one:

When posing in front of a lighthouse (yes, it's under construction), best to look like you've escaped an institution:

A really neat part of North Carolina that we both enjoyed birding was down at the Croatan National Forest. Here, we easily found the endangered RED-COCKADED WOODPECKERS and BACHMAN'S SPARROWS, another new photo bird:

Down the road from the NF, we had really good luck with birding a particular piece of roadside. The warbler flock included WORM-EATING WARBLERS, SUMMER TANAGERS, PROTHONOTARY WARBLERS among many others. Included in that flock was a pair of BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHERS:

Perhaps the biggest attraction for me with North Carolina was taking my first ever Atlantic pelagic birding trip. This is one of the only ways to see a suite of oceanic birds and so we boarded the Stormy Petrel II for a full-day of ocean birding with Brian Patteson and crew.

Once we got out into the warm-watered Gulf Stream (which took a couple hours), the bird diversity started to pick up. The first couple species we spotted were AUDUBON'S and CORY'S SHEARWATERS. Here's a CORY'S SHEARWATER that Ashley snapped a picture of:

Unlike many of the seabird species, GREAT SHEARWATERS were actually quite tame and landed right next to the boat (literally, within 2 feet). Here is one that was too close to get a good picture of!

Another common bird out in the warmer waters were WILSON'S STORM-PETRELS:

After a bit, we started seeing BLACK-CAPPED PETRELS arcing back and forth a little further out:

The clear highlight of the pelagic trip came a bit later though. Over the intercom Brian shouted "TRINDADE PETREL". All heads, even those which were usually angled down over the back of the boat, whipped up and got on the bird. A true rarity, this was the first TRINDADE PETREL that Brian has had this entire year. I was able to get a very poor photo of the bird as it arced up past the boat:

Unfortunately, the high seas, wind, salt spray, and my never-ending sea-sickness kept me from being a super-active birder on this trip. I'm still happy I did it though! I got off the boat with 7 more ABA birds!

In case any of you think you would go crazy after so much birding... you're right, we needed a break. I think Professor Hacker's had the answer!

I'm not even kidding... putt-putt was in store. With a course like this, who could resist??

Well, here Ashley is winding up for one of her precision-putts. We won't say whether or not the ball actually went in the hole:

Where was I during this whole ordeal? Well, I found some props in one of the golf tunnels that gave me something to doo doo:

A quick snapshot of the two pro golfers:

How did we have so much energy for all this birding and golf? Well.......