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Great Black-backed Gull. Photo by David Collins.

By Cynthia Donaldson

When I close my eyes, I can still see the owl.  I made sure my mind took a “photo” of its face: two, black squinted eyes on a white, solemn face; a small, sharp black beak punctuating the center; the sleepy gaze at our group.  When the Saturday, January 14, itinerary for the Forsyth Audubon 2017 Winter Trip included a long drive north from our headquarters in Virginia Beach to visit this beautiful refuge on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, we had little hope of seeing a Snowy Owl.  It hadn’t been seen for two weeks.  We stuck to our plan to visit, anyway, in hopes of seeing the visiting Black-headed Gull from across the Atlantic. We actually located two rare gulls:  the Iceland Gull and the Black-headed Gull.  Then, as we checked out a huge flock of Snow Goose napping at Tom’s Cove, a scan of the shore line produced a lone, white bird resting on a mound of sand.  The Snowy Owl!

Snowy Owl at Tom's Cove. Photo by David Collins.

Snowy Owl at Tom’s Cove. Photo by David Collins.

northern-harrier

Norther Harrier at Craney Island. Photo by Nathan Gatto.

Our wonderful group of birders enjoyed an awesome trip.  On Friday, we visited the Craney Island Dredged Material Management Area in Norfolk, Virginia.  Our caravan of cars was escorted along the western edge of the three chambers of the island by Shannon Reinheimer, an Environmental Scientist employed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  She monitors sea turtles and sturgeon habitat in the Chesapeake Bay waters as the dredging process keeps shipping channels open.  In the western bay, we observed Canvasbacks and many Buffleheads.  Twelve inches of snow had covered the area the weekend before making the perpendicular roads were impassable for cars, so we hiked up the ramps and scanned the ponds.

Watching the birds at Craney Island.

Watching the birds at Craney Island.

We saw hundreds of American Shovelers and other ducks.  We found a small flock of Snow Buntings that were quite camouflaged in the sand and low grass clumps.  For many in our group, it was a life bird.

Harbor Seal by Nathan Gatto.

Harbor Seal by Nathan Gatto.

Saturday morning broke on the cloudy, drippy side. What a sight to see Great Black-backed Gulls sailing along at eye level as we crossed the expanses of the awesome Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel.  The bay was gray and choppy, but with careful observation, little rafts of ducks could be seen, bobbing along in the waves.  From our vantage point on the man-made islands, we saw Harlequin Ducks, Common Eiders, a lone Common Goldeneye, and all three scoters, as well as many Long-tailed Ducks, a Great Cormorant, and even seals.

 

Purple Sandpipers along the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. Photo by Nathan Gatto.

Purple Sandpipers along the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. Photo by Nathan Gatto.

Brandt on Chincoteague Island. Photo by David Collins.

Brandt on Chincoteague Island. Photo by David Collins.

After the two-hour tour, we headed back across the bridge to the north to one of the most visited refuges in the U.S.:  Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge.  And it was here that we saw the Snowy Owl.  Some others on the beach did not understand the Snowy Owl’s predicament – being far from home and very possibly stressed and hungry.  When a woman approached the bird, it flew closer to us.  Cameras clicked as the paparazzi in our group took photos of the owl in flight!  We lingered as long as we could, basking in the joy of seeing this rare bird!

Lots of smiles after great look at the Iceland Gull at Chincoteague!

Lots of smiles after great look at the Iceland Gull at Chincoteague!

By Sunday morning at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, we thought we had reached our life bird quota for the trip, but were we in for a surprise!  After our four-hour tour of the beautiful impoundments that provide a great wintering habitat for hundreds of migrating birds, we enjoyed our lunches, warmed up, and then got back to birding. Then word came from our “scouting team” that they had located a King Rail.  We hurried to the locale and stared into a wall of reeds.  A little stream trickled along the edge of the reeds.  Here, we spent a long time searching for the rail that was long gone.  Rob had a quick look at the “rail” but his description did not match.  When all eyes finally found the bird hiding deep in the reeds, we were ecstatic to realize that we were looking at a Least Bittern!

Bundled-up birders enjoyed the 2017 winter trip!

Bundled-up birders enjoyed the 2017 winter trip!

The sightings of the Snowy Owl, Black-headed Gull, Iceland Gull and the Least Bittern – all birds that should not even be in Virginia at this time of year – made this an amazing trip! We each spent a long time etching the memory of these birds into our minds. These recollections will always bring smiles to our faces!

Where will our love of birds lead us next year? Photo by Ferd Crotte.

Where will our love of birds lead us next year? Photo by Ferd Crotte.

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By Cynthia Donaldson

My cell rang at 3:20 PM: Tommie and Fran had relocated the Mourning Warblers on the Crane Creek Estuary Trail!  By the time I got there, the birds were gone!  Our group was scheduled to bird Estuary Trail at 4:30 PM, so with many eyes searching, I hoped that we could relocate the birds.  Just as we began the walk, another call came in that one of the two Mourning Warblers had been relocated.  As the group hurried down the trail to find it, again it disappeared.  We continued along this beautiful trail, scanning the edge of the water near the southern side of the dike.  Mourning Warblers typically skulk along the ground so they are tricky to detect.  Finally, we got word – again  – that the bird had been found.  The group lined up along the dike, trying to catch a glimpse, but it was hard to see him.

Photo by David Shuford.

We followed the movement east and then west along the water’s edge of the dike until everyone got satisfying looks at this little olive and yellow bird wearing his black mourning hood.  This bird was one of the 26 warblers that our group enjoyed on our recent trip to Magee Marsh – a Spring birding paradise – along the southern shore of Lake Erie, Ohio.

Wednesday:  Most of us used Tuesday, May 17, as a travel day, so by Wednesday morning, we were standing at the west entrance to the Magee Marsh boardwalk, ready to take the walk that beckons birders from around the world.

A favorite photo spot is under the west entrance sign to the Magee Marsh boardwalk.

The West entrance is the best starting place.  Within moments, 20 species can be added to the daily tally.  We spent the morning leisurely walking the boardwalk, slowly heading east.  Warbling Vireos sang from the branches above.

A crowd enjoyed watching the Yellow Warbler and Prothonotary Warbler parents working on nest building.  We even enjoyed some time checking out the two Bald Eagle nests in the parking lot area.  They provided the paparazzi with many photo ops!

Photo by Gail Crotte.

Our daily lunch meetings were such fun!  Thanks to my husband, Pete, who set up the canopy and extra chairs so we could gather and gossip about our birds of the morning.   Swainson’s Thrush and Baltimore Orioles were seen right from our camp chairs as we ate our lunches and watched the color changes of Lake Erie.

Photo by Don Adamick.

After lunch the first day, a reported Wilson’s Phalarope led us to the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge Boss Unit on the south side of Route 2.  Here we enjoyed seeing the target bird as well as Trumpeter Swans, a Mute Swan, many Dunlin, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, and Northern Shovelers.  We celebrated our find with ice cream sundaes from the Barnside Creamery!

Chestnut-sided Warbler. Photo by Gail Crotte.

Wednesday night must have been good for flying over Lake Erie because Thursday, May 19th, was a bit more quiet.  We were not deterred!  Even when the rest of the boardwalk was “slow,” the “Cypress Trees” remained the place to be!  Most of us had great looks at Blackpoll, Canada, Chestnut-sided, Bay-breasted, Yellow, Black-throated Green, Black-throated Blue, Tennessee, Nashville, and Magnolia Warblers and Northern Parula by just standing in this one “hot” spot.

Red-headed Woodpecker. Photo by Gail Crotte.

By Friday, things were hopping again.  We headed back to the Estuary Trail on Friday morning.  We saw 33 species and 14 of those were warblers. One non-warbler that a few lucky birders saw was a gorgeous Red-headed Woodpecker.  The weather was pleasant with clear skies – perfect for being outside enjoying the amazing beauty of the creation.  In one little patch of woods, we enjoyed watching two pairs of Bay-breasted Warblers searching the trees for bugs and larvae.  Wilson’s Warbler peeked through the leaves as he busily searched for his lunch.  A lone Ovenbird sang a few times, but was all business as he pecked through the dry leaves on the forest floor.  Prothonotary Warbler zoomed in and out of the thicket – definitely on a nest building mission.  All the while, Tree Swallows sailed and chattered above our heads.  Canada and Chestnut-sided Warblers and American Redstart flitted through the trees before us as they foraged.

Prothonotary Warbler. Photo by Gail Crotte.

After this, we enjoyed the boardwalk for the rest of the day.

One highlight of the day for three lucky members of our group was a look at the illustrious Kirtland’s Warbler!!  There was a (quiet) stampede of birders who tried to get there in time to see it, but a little Yellow Warbler chased it well out of the area before we could get there.

That evening, six of us enjoyed watching the day quietly come to an end as we sat in camp chairs behind the Black Water Swamp Observatory.  While we waited, we had some great looks at the Eastern Kingbird hovering over the field.  As darkness came, the songs of the Yellow Warbler, Field Sparrow, and Baltimore Orioles came to an end and the Wood Thrush picked up his flute.  Then the American Woodcock flew in – peenting and heading to the sky to begin his whirling and twirling courtship song and dance!  What a show!

A Common Nighthawk was perched in view from the boardwalk for several days and most of the birders in our group were lucky and saw this bird.

Common Nighthawk. Photo by Gail Crotte.

Saturday morning began with a drizzle, so we donned our rain gear and headed to Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge.  Using walkie-talkies as we drove along Wildlife Drive was a help for reporting birds to the other cars.  One stop revealed a Sora foraging along the edge of the marsh.  It was quite shy, but with much perseverance, we got to see it!  Many of us enjoyed adding the Marbled Godwit to our life list.  This large, long-billed shorebird was hanging out with Semipalmated Plovers, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Least Sandpiper, a Caspian Tern, and many Dunlin.  Seeing the Sandhill Crane chick was the highlight for many of us!

Dunlin. Photo by Don Adamick.

That evening, we enjoyed a delicious dinner at 1812 Island House Restaurant in Port Clinton.  I do not think we have ever had such a raucous count-off, though.  I felt like I was in a shouting contest with the table next to us as I read the list to our group who was struggling to hear me!  Somehow we totaled the trip at 138 species!  Good-bye hugs ended the evening.

On Sunday, it was very quiet… Most of the gang headed home in the morning.  It was also quiet on the boardwalk when Pete and I did one last survey.  We also did one last survey on the Ottawa National Wildlife driving tour. We saw 5 White Pelicans, 2 Short-billed Dowitchers, and 1 Kenn Kauffman.

Overall, it was an awesome trip.  The best part of the trip was spending time with the people in our group!  And it was unanimous: we will be going to Magee again next year!!

 

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By Cynthia Donaldson

My walkie-talkie squeaked out: “Mourning Warbler on the left!” Everyone jumped out of their cars and hurried to the edge of trees between the gravel road and the shrubby field. The plain, little olive-backed bird with a mourning hood sang to us for the next 30 minutes. When he sang, we tried to get our binoculars on him; then we saw a flash of yellow as he moved to a different shrub. We followed him up and then down the tree line. Another, even more sulky bird was spotted for a moment before it went deep into the thick underbrush. We guessed that it was the female and that the male was trying to draw us away from the nest.

Most of us got to see the beautiful male Mourning Warbler – a rare “gem” of the east. For some it was like putting a puzzle together in order to “see” the entire bird: first a peek at the gray head, then a look at the black breast patch, then a splash of yellow belly…put it all together and you have a life bird!!

Paddy Knob had produced its rare “target” bird for the 24 birders of Forsyth Audubon!

The bugs that the Mourning Warbler enjoy were annoying, to say the least.  The “hands above the head” trick really worked!  Bugs fly to the highest point…who knew!

The bugs that the Mourning Warblers enjoy were annoying, to say the least. The “hands above the head” trick really worked! Bugs fly to the highest point…who knew! Photo by David Shuford.

The Forsyth Audubon 2015 Spring Trip to Virginia had begun the day before on Friday, May 29, 2015. Most of us had to get up before the birds so that by 6 AM we would be embarking on the 3-hour trip north to Peaks of Otter on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia. A few fortunate others slept in a bit since they had spent the night at the Peaks of Otter Inn… just across the street from our meeting place. They enjoyed a leisurely morning of breakfast and birding around the beautiful Peaks of Otter grounds until the rest of us arrived.

It was a beautiful morning at Peaks of Otter and it would prove to be a great day to be birding in Virginia! Once all arrived, we headed up the parkway to Sunset Fields. A quick survey produced Ovenbirds, Scarlet Tanagers, and Hooded Warblers. Many American Redstarts were singing in the area as well. Group one headed down Warbler Road, with the second group starting shortly after. In less than a mile, both groups were enjoying sightings of Cerulean Warblers. Many people were happy to count this beautiful blue “gem” as a life bird. As we continued down in elevation, the habitat changed slowly. Now, the calls of Acadian Flycatchers and Worm-eating Warblers echoed through the oaks and pines. A very fussy Black-and-white Warbler pair warned us that we were too close to their nest on the ground. Mr. B&W, beak full of bugs, walked down a tree to his nest on the ground. We saw where he disappeared but we tried without success to find the nest! It had to be right there, but it was hidden too well by this feathered pair!

Northern Parulas and Louisiana Waterthrushes entertained us during our lunch break near North Creek Campground. We could have spent all day on Warbler Road, but after lunch we drove to our accommodations in Warm Springs, VA.

The creek at Hidden Valley

The creek at Hidden Valley

At Hidden Valley, Don Lendle spotted a third year Bald Eagle soaring in the sky above. The eagle was not alone: A broad-winged Hawk and two Ospreys were harassing him! Each time the Broad-winged attacked, the eagle did a complete barrel-roll with talons glinting right at the attacker! Then the Ospreys joined the attacks. The eagle simply rolled on his back, seeming to float – feet up – holding for a second before completing the roll. We were thrilled by the show. It was definitely one of the highlights of the trip!

Our destination on the morning of Day 2 was Paddy Knob. In our high hopes of seeing the Mourning Warbler, we listened to his song on our iPhones so that we would be ready. It was a one-hour drive to the north-west, up Route 220 with a left on 84, then onto WV 55. The forest road that leads to Paddy Knob follows the border between Virginia and West Virginia.

The view along WV 55.

The view along WV 55

The lush woods along WV 55 were filled with the chorus of Least Flycatchers, Veeries, Black-throated Green Warblers, and Black-capped Chickadees! Then the Mourning Warbler’s solo “Chirry, chirry, chirry, chorry, chorry” joined in the music of the forest just as we reached Paddy Knob!!

After enjoying some time with the Mourning Warbler, our group split up and explored the 3.5 mile road back down to Route 84, before heading to Monterey for lunch. High in the leafy branches along WV 55, we had a final, special sighting: a male and female Blackburnian Warbler!

It is not often that these Southern birders get to enjoy a sighting of a Black-capped Chickadee!

It is not often that Southern birders get to enjoy a Black-capped Chickadee!

In the afternoon, we stopped at the cemetery in Blue Grass where we added Bobolink to our list. This quiet hill provided a high spot from which we saw soaring vultures, Red-winged Blackbirds, Eastern Meadowlarks, and of course the Bobolinks.

Birders.  Photo by David Shuford.

Birding at the Blue Grass Cemetery. Photo by David Shuford.

For our last stop of the day, we explored the road along Margaret O’Bryan’s property where Rob Rogers helped us spot a Golden-winged Warbler. Around that same time, Mr. and Mrs. O’Bryan drove up the road!! They graciously invited us to bird on their gorgeous property! We could hear Golden-winged Warblers singing in the distance as we walked along their mowed paths…keeping a look-out for slithering reptiles (of which we had been warned).

The view from the O’Bryans as we headed back to our cars! Photo by David Shuford.

The view from the O’Bryans as we headed back to our cars! Photo by David Shuford.

As the sun lowered in the sky, we unanimously decided to call it a day. A final bird, a Red-headed Woodpecker, made a brief appearance, putting an exclamation mark at the end of this great day in the Virginia Highlands!

Birding at Hidden Valley

Birding at Hidden Valley

Many of us started the day on Sunday with one more birding trip to Hidden Valley!! Others enjoyed a leisurely breakfast at the Warm Springs Inn before heading back to Winston-Salem. The most interesting find that morning, thanks to David Shuford’s sharp ears, was a probable Blue-winged x Golden-winged Warbler hybrid! It was singing the Blue-winged Warbler song; then it switched to a form of the Golden-winged Warbler song. Rob Rogers, the only one to get his binoculars on it, was pretty sure he saw dark on the throat which would make it a Lawrence’s Warbler – much less common than the Brewster’s hybrid between the two species. It was the “one that got away;” the one that draws us back into the field tomorrow… to bird again.

Two more warblers would make it to the list before we pulled out of the parking lot at noon: a Yellow-throated Warbler and a Yellow-breasted Chat. The final count for the trip was 97 species! Amazing!

I want to close this report with a huge thank you to each of these people who joined in on this trip sharing their expertise, help, and encouragement: Rob Rogers, Phil Dickinson, Bill Gifford, Nancy Russo, Lucia Zinzow, Bill and Betty Gray Davis, Allen and Jeanine Elster, Tommie Castleman, Fran Shelton, Bob and Katie Dalton, Warren Jones, David Shuford, John and Trish Shoemaker, Bill Jackson, Carol and Ouida Cunningham, Don Lendle, Anne Stupka, and Kathy Donaldson.

Birding image is everything!: Binoculars with comfy back strap; waterproof watch; walkie-talkie; and color- coordinated shirt and iphone cover!  Photo of Rob Rogers by David Shuford.

Birding image is everything!: Binoculars with comfy back strap; waterproof watch; walkie-talkie; and color-coordinated shirt and iphone cover! Photo of Rob Rogers by David Shuford.

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By Cynthia Donaldson

As the sun dipped over the shimmering ponds to the west, we put on more layers and took our places along Milltail Road, waiting for the main attraction. Tundra Swans honked overhead. Gadwalls and Pintails chanted their evening chorus. The Northern Harriers danced in the empty field before us – gliding silently above the grasses, banking to the left then right. Savannah sparrows popped up for a quick look – teasing us with their high-pitched “peet.” The 26 birders standing on Milltail Road were in one long line, talking in hushed voices. With scopes at the ready, each scanned the fields in the growing darkness. Then a cry went up as ghost-like shapes flapped across the field like pale moths.

Then, it was dark. The 2015 Forsyth Audubon Trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina had begun!

Tundra Swans at Alligator River NWR.  Photo by Gail Crotte.

Tundra Swans at Alligator River NWR. Photo by Gail Crotte.

Friday, January 16, 2015 The Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge was the first stop on our fabulous weekend! By 4 o’clock in the afternoon, most of the 28 members of our group had arrived. The afternoon was spent scanning the fields to the east of the road and enjoying the Northern Harriers’ show.

Northern Harrier.  Photo by Gail Crotte.

Northern Harrier. Photo by Gail Crotte.

They were unanimously the group favorite. A Bald Eagle also thrilled the group by flying overhead, giving each of us a great look. A Golden Eagle had been seen in recent days at Alligator River, and Rob Rogers, with his “eagle” eyes, located the bird circling toward the east. Many got good looks at it through scopes. To our backs, the ponds were full of Pintails, Gadwalls, Tundra Swans and Redheads. Snipe were feeding in the grassy dikes lining the ponds. Nathan Gatto led our caravan along the refuge roads. An Orange-crowned warbler made a brief appearance. A beautiful American Kestrel perched on a piece of equipment long enough for everyone to see it though the scope. For some, he was a life bird! Another stop provided great looks at a Pileated Woodpecker working a dead tree. The announcement, “That is the strangest bird I have ever seen!” caused a bit of excitement as we hurried to see what Bill Gifford had found. A covey of quail were darting in and out of the scrubby field edge. As they grew more bold, the dozen or so Northern Bobwhites came out into the field!

Then, just as the sun set, the ghostly shapes – the Short-eared Owls – flew from the woods over the fields! The long awaited birds disappeared into the dark. Some birders got great looks at their pale faces and yellow eyes as the birds quickly headed across the fields to their nightly haunts. Some birders did not.

Our bodies had time to thaw as we drove to our kick-off dinner at Stripers Bar and Grille in Manteo. Susan Andrews kindly gave us a Charley Harper calendar to give out at the dinner. Heather Moir was the recipient of this prize: she had seen three life birds at Alligator River and… it was her birthday!

Then it was off to the Comfort Inn South in Nags Head.  After check-in, Scopolamine patches were put on and everyone went to bed.

Saturday, January 17:  Rise-and-shine came well before the sun did!! The 18 pelagic trip members drove down the dark highway to Hatteras. Brian Patteson, Kate Sutherland, and Jeff Lemons met us at 6 AM at the Stormy Petrel II. After instructions and a quick tour of the boat, we were underway. Because of sand deposits during recent hurricanes, all boats, including the Ocracoke Ferry, now have to go out into the Sound several miles to find the deeper channel and then pass through the inlet. Brian expertly navigated us through the shallow waters out into the ocean!

For the next 10 hours, we skirted the coast, enjoying the beauty of the Outer Banks. The Hatteras Lighthouse was on the starboard side for most of the day. The sky was blue overhead and the sun was warm, despite the very chilly wind.

Heading out to sea aboard the Stormy Petrel II.  Photo by Cynthia Dickinson.

Heading out to sea aboard the Stormy Petrel II. Photo by Cynthia Donaldson.

The entire day, we had an entourage of gulls and gannets! Kate threw out the chum all day long as we made our way through the waves. It was so much fun to study the differences between Great Black-backed, Lesser Black-backed and Herring Gulls in all their various plumages from juvenile to adult. And then, when the Herring/Glaucous hybrid showed up on the return trip, we had opportunity to study the details of this bird as well. Watching Northern Gannets at eye-level was everyone’s favorite! Even Brown Pelicans followed us for most of the day. Other birds seen on this trip were Razorbill, Dovekie, Bonaparte’s Gull, and one Little Gull! Twice, the group had looks at Hammerhead Shark. Several sea turtles leisurely floated by as well.

Northern Gannet.  Photo by Gail Crotte.

Northern Gannet. Photo by Gail Crotte.

The forecasted 2-5 foot seas were closer to 3-12, especially when we crossed the Diamond Shoals. I might be exaggerating a bit, but many of the passengers would agree with my assessment, I’m sure! Riding in the front of the boat was like riding on the first car of a rollercoaster! And then the pelagic birding challenge: locating birds that appear and then disappear in the swells, all the while holding onto the railing with one hand and steadying binoculars with the other!

Click here to see the beautiful photo of a Razorbill by Jeff Lemons.

What a celebration on deck when the Great Skua made an appearance – twice!   I think everyone got great looks at it. Not mentioning any names, but from the bathroom on the back of the Stormy Petrel, the intercom announcement, “Great Skua!!!!” and ensuing commotion sounds an awfully lot like, “Man overboard!!”

Photo of the Skua by Jeff Lemons can be viewed here.

White Pelican.  Photo by Gail Crotte.

White Pelican. Photo by Gail Crotte.

At our farthest point out into the ocean, near the Diamond Shoal’s Light, we threw out a bottle with a note into the sea. Heather Moir’s fourth grade had written a note and prepared the bottle for a journey to unknown lands. So at 3:15 PM, over the rail it went! Captain Patterson gave us the exact GPS location for Heather’s class. (A different bottle from another class at Summit School floated all the way to Portugal.) Hopefully, Heather’s class will hear back from someone in a far off country, as well!

From there, we headed straight back to the dock arriving around 5:00 PM. With the wind at our backs, the choppiness subsided. We could not have spent a more beautiful day at sea! Many thanks to Brian, Kate, Jeff and Nathan for a great trip!

After a day of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and Dramamine, the pizza dinner at Gidget’s Pizza in Avon, NC really hit the spot!

On the way back to the hotel that night, several of us stopped at Bodie Lighthouse to see if we could find some owls or rails. It was a very quiet night lit by a bazillion twinkling stars and Jupiter. A few shooting starts zipped by overhead, too. Although we did not find any birds, the memory of the starry night will stay with us for a long time.

"Ipswich" Savannah Sparrow.  Photo by Heather Moir.

“Ipswich” Savannah Sparrow. Photo by Heather Moir.

The landlubber group also had a great day. Jeff Lewis met them at 7 AM at the hotel and they visited some of his favorite hotspots. He took them to a private residence in Kill Devil Hills to see the two Redpolls that had been visiting a feeder there. From what I heard, the birding at Bodie Lighthouse and Pea Island was amazing! The landlubbers had great looks at White Pelicans, American Avocets, and dabbling ducks of all kinds! Many noted that their favorite part of the day was watching the birds covertly from a duck blind. After a fun day of birding, they enjoyed dinner at Blue Moon Café before calling it a night.

Sunday, January 18:  The word for Sunday was “windy!” The ocean was a churning pot of white caps. The sand blasted horizontally at Group B as we trekked out to Hatteras Point searching, to no avail, for the Snow Buntings and Lapland Longspur. Nathan and Sarah remained optimistic as we checked out every dune and dip, but we could not find those birds. We had several great looks at an American Bittern and a Black Skimmer as a consolation prize.

Group A, led by Ron Morris went back to Bodie and Pea Island for an enjoyable morning of birding.

Birders enjoying the waterfowl on Bodie Pond.  Photo by Heather Moir.

Birders enjoying the waterfowl on Bodie Pond. Photo by Heather Moir.

Green-winged Teal.  Photo by Heather Moir.

Green-winged Teal. Photo by Heather Moir.

Both groups enjoyed some great birds until the rain hit! It poured for about 3 hours. Group B birded from the Pea Island Visitor Center and ate lunch in our cars. Group A took a nap! Feeling quite refreshed, they met us at Bodie Island Lighthouse for a few hours of birding before dinner.

The sight of the day for both groups was the thousands of Redheads packed into the Bodie Pond!!

Redheads on Bodie Pond.  Photo by Phil Dickinson.

Redheads on Bodie Pond. Photo by Phil Dickinson.

Kelly’s Restaurant was a perfect venue to celebrate the last night of our trip! Beautiful paintings of ducks and other water fowl lined the walls. Mr. Kelly himself, wearing his snazzy tennis shoes, thanked us for coming to his restaurant. Our meal was delicious! We all splurged and had one of their homemade desserts, too!

One last, late-evening visit to Bodie in hopes of an owl was, again, futile. The stars and a thin crescent moon were out at first. Then clouds blew in. Oh, what a perfect setting for a spooky (true) story by Nathan… “One late night, while birding in the middle of nowhere, I heard steps in the woods…When I looked up, I saw…..”

Seawatching from Jeanette’s Pier.  Photo by Phil Dickinson.

Seawatching from Jeanette’s Pier. Photo by Phil Dickinson.

Monday, January 19:  After breakfast on the last day, we met at Jeanette’s Pier. A place of happy memories for Nathan and Sarah! They were married there last April! We saw the usual pier birds like Horned Grebe, Scoters, Loons and then… the Parasitic Jaeger skimmed the horizon! The trip had come to a close with one last, very cool life bird!!

A die-hard remnant decided to try for the buntings and longspur one last time! Surely we would find the birds on this beautiful, sunny day? The hour drive and the hour hike out to Hatteras was full of anticipation. I must report that this story has a sad ending: we could not find them!!!! The birds were sitting behind a dune laughing at us, no doubt.

But as you all know, that is why we bird again… the hope… the fun… and the maybe-I-will-see-it-tomorrow…

“Thank you” to everyone who participated in this wonderful trip!! You are a great “flock” of birders!

Beautiful ending to a wonderful trip.  Photo by Cynthia Donaldson.

Beautiful ending to a wonderful trip. Photo by Cynthia Donaldson.

 

 

 

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By Rob Rogers

Forsyth Audubon’s 2014 Spring Trip was to North Carolina’s southern coastal region. Our “Base of Operations” was the Comfort Inn Shallotte where we enjoyed excellent hospitality – despite a few “technical difficulties” our first night. I would like to offer a special thanks to Judy Scurry for guiding us on our Saturday morning outing to Sunset Beach and for her dining recommendations. Judy, you made our trip very enjoyable and I am sure I speak for the rest of the group. Our group rounded out at 24 folks – a nice size for spring! Several different mini groups enjoyed an afternoon of birding on Friday in several different locations. Carol and Ouida win the “Most Unusual Sighting Award” when they were treated to a “Target Bird” flyover of three Woodstorks a few miles before reaching Shallotte!   Friday Night’s restaurant of choice for a large part of the group was “Inlet View Seafood” in Shallotte. Judy recommended it and we were not disappointed.

Osprey.  Photo by Mike Conway.

Osprey. Photo by Mike Conway.

Saturday morning, we departed from the usual “Rob Early Start Time”, departing for Twin Lakes at 8:00 AM. There we saw several of the expected denizens – egrets and herons – from the coast as well as a Common Moorhen, Alligators and Fox Squirrels the size of Welsh Corgis. Ospreys were nesting in the tall pines and put on quite a show as did the Least Terns fishing quite successfully in the lake. We left the Lakes and drove to Twin Lakes Golf Course where Ospreys were nesting on platforms close to the parking lot. All were able to observe to their heart’s content. Especially interesting when one of the nesters showed up with a 10″ Whiting and proceeded to have breakfast in full view of the group. We left the golf course, navigated the roundabout and over the bridge to Sunset Beach. After a brief encounter with a Corn Snake, the best birding was on the inlet side of East Beach where we had excellent looks at Oystercatchers, Short-billed Dowitchers, Black Skimmers, Black-bellied Plovers and (a personal favorite) Red Knots. We had a quick look at the west end of the island and were delighted to have long looks at a Whimbrel. We left Sunset around noon and headed out to Oak Island.

American Oystercatchers.  Photo by Phil Dickinson.

American Oystercatchers. Photo by Phil Dickinson.

Whimbrel.  Photo by Phil Dickinson.

Whimbrel. Photo by Phil Dickinson.

On Oak Island, we birded the 3 walkovers across the marshy area and though the species count was not high, what we saw was both interesting and entertaining. At the 30th Street Walkover, we had a Clapper Rail calling directly under and around the boardwalk. Several got decent looks at the moving grasses and the bird slinking along almost invisible in its camouflage. The 20th Street Walkover proved the old adage that everyone – er, everything – is attracted to a fight. Two Boat-tailed Grackles were battling on one of the creek banks – one on the other’s back, hammering him mercilessly on the back of the head. The loud squawking attracted a Clapper Rail’s attention from the opposite side of the creek. The Clapper was standing most unClapper like with head and neck extended so much that at first we thought it might be a Limpkin. The Clapper stood there for 5 minutes in rapt attention at the spectacle before him until the Grackles finally stopped the “Barney.” After checking the 3rd walkover, we headed back to the hotel to recount the day’s events.

Clapper Rail.  Photo by Mike Conway.

Clapper Rail. Photo by Mike Conway.

Sunday morning, we got back to a more standard “Rob Early Start” with a 7:15 “AIS” time and headed for Holly Shelter Gamelands. Our timing was impeccable with Turkey season over on Saturday leaving the gates unlocked until Monday. We were able to drive in and avoid the 3 mile hike to Fussell’s recommended areas. First stop, as we stepped out of our automobiles, we heard numerous Prairie Warblers, Common Yellowthroats, Yellow Warblers and the crowd pleasing Red-headed Woodpeckers and Bobwhites. Just when we turned to go back to the cars, two Red-cockaded Woodpeckers flew in and all got good looks at this declining species. We drove to the second location and stopped to seek the Bachman’s Sparrow. We were directly in the area described by Fussell when we heard our first Bachman’s. The group scanned deep into the brush in vain until we realized the bird was singing a mere 20 feet from the road. Everyone “got on” the bird as he sang away and it was a lifer for many in the group. One last stop series near the drain pipes and we saw a luckless, Legless Lizard that had just been hit by a car. Alas, he did not make it but still an interesting sighting. The last of the drain pipes had Swainson’s Warblers on either side of the road. Unfortunately, as is often the case with Swainson’s, the brush was so thick that despite the close proximity, no one got a look.

Bachmans Sparrow.  Photo by Mike Conway.

Bachmans Sparrow. Photo by Mike Conway.

Our species list stands at 94. In addition to the “Most Unusual Sighting Award” mentioned above, I would like to hand out the “Dr. Doolittle Award.” Although we enjoyed David Doolittle’s company, the award is not for him! No, the “Dr. Doolittle” award goes to Kitty Jensen for her ability to speak with female Boat-tailed Grackles. Kitty would not divulge the subject of her conversations but assured me that they were most enjoyable. The trip was a big success and I look forward to the next outing.

Additional photos from the trip can be viewed in the Forsyth Audubon photo gallery http://www.forsythaudubon.org/Birds/PhotoGallery.aspx.  Select “Audubon Spring Trip 2014.”

 

 

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Jungle Jeanie has wi-fi, but only in the restaurant/bar area. After dinner, Katherine Thorington and I liked to sit on the outside deck to use our laptops. It sure was nice to do that in January.  An added bonus was watching a Common Pauraque dance under the lights of the adjacent parking area. Yeah, another life bird.

grackle

Male Great-tailed Grackle

Friday would be the last day we were together, and once again we were up at the crack of dawn to explore local birding hotspots. Much thanks to Jeanie, John and their staff for accommodating the breakfast timetable of these crazy birders.  Of course, the garrulous Great-tailed Grackles also were early risers and ready to send us off on our daily adventures. What’s that strange sound? It’s a grackle.

views

Birders’ Differing Views

savannah

Hopkins Savannah

There was no rush to meet anyone that morning, so we finally made it a point to stop at the savannah on the Hopkins road. Common Yellowthroats, Yellow Warblers and White-collared Seedeaters popped in and out of the reeds, and a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher perched briefly on the wire.  However, the main attractions were the numerous wading birds foraging along the mudflats: Little Blue and Tricolored Herons, Great and Snowy Egrets, Wood Storks and then a flash of pink as a Roseate Spoonbill came into view.

Our destination for the day was only a few miles up the highway – Mayflower Bocawina National Park. The park preserves partially excavated Maya ruins dating from 800-900 A.D.  There are about a dozen earth- and tree-covered structures, the largest being the Maintzunun Temple mound with a wall of stones wrapped around the base. We enjoyed a peaceful stroll among the hills, admiring the efforts and skills of the long-ago ancestors of the local populace.

mayabirders

Birding Amongst the Ruins

twobarred

Two-barred Flasher

Most of the birds in the mound area were neotropical migrants – catbird, redstart, Magnolia and Black-and-white Warbler, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher.  A beautiful pair of Golden-hooded Tanagers flew by the visitor center but, alas, too quickly for a photo. Meanwhile, Pink Cattleheart and Two-barred Flasher butterlies fluttered from flower to flower outside the visitor center.

After we all enjoyed a relaxing lunch on a bridge spanning Silk Grass Creek, Shelley Rutkin and I clicked off several photographs of a puzzling hummingbird. Consulting with Lee Jones when we returned home, we eventually concluded that it was a Scaly-breasted Hummingbird.

scalybreasted

Scaly-breasted Hummingbird

grosbeak

Blue-Black Grosbeak

We began the afternoon at Mama Noots Eco Resort in the park, where we could see Antelope Falls spill off a nearby mountainside. A shorter, easier trail leads to Bocawina Falls. Shelley and I opted to join Jeremy Reiskind on his mission to see this waterfall and perhaps new birds.  Before we went very far, we ran into a pair of Blue-black Grosbeaks. Even for a grosbeak, their bills are big. Then, just off the trail, a male Summer Tanager and several Olive-backed Euphonias lunched on bananas, completely oblivious to us observing them for several minutes. Deeper into the jungle, we discovered that Long-tailed Hermit hummingbirds also visit banana trees but for the flowers.

euphonia

Female Olive-backed Euphonia

summertanager

Male Summer Tanager

A larger bird glided across the path to a new perch. It was a species we had been hoping all trip to see – a Blue-crowned Motmot with its long racket-tail. Deeper into the jungle, we came across a cluster of birds, including Wedge-tailed and Ruddy Woodcreepers, White-breasted Wood Wrens and a Red-crowned Ant-tanager.  Shelley also found another bird Jeremy and I missed – a Royal Flycatcher This bird shows a spectacular crest at times, but this time it was in its usual folded position.

bocawina

Bocawina Falls

To Jeremy’s geological delight, we made it to the falls. We had time only for a few serene moments before hustling back to the friends we had deserted.  A flock of about 20 Black-faced Grosbeaks and a couple of White-collared Manakins later, we arrived back at the lodge and I apologized profusely to Kitty Jensen for absentmindedly walking off with the keys to the van. Katherine seemed content with finding several birds we left behind, including Ruddy Ground Doves and Yellow-faced Grassquits. And, she happily showed us her photo of a Wood Thrush, Social Flycatcher and Gray Catbird in the same field of view.

socialflycatcher

Social Flycatcher

Soon we were back in Hopkins for our final evening. On Saturday morning, we would depart early to get Katherine, Kitty and I to the airport before Shelley and Jeremy continued their Belize birding for a few more days.  We celebrated our week with more fresh fish and young Guaranu drummers at the Frog’s Point Restaurant before turning in early, once again.

frogpointe

Last Supper in Belize

What a wonderful week it was! We took boat rides on rivers. We strolled the beach. We conquered muddy tracks to visit new parks and wildlife sanctuaries. We saw more than 160 bird species, dozens of them new to our life lists.  We met new friends from Belize Audubon who are working energetically to conserve habitat for both resident and migratory birds. Belize is a small country with a population less than that of Forsyth County and few dollars to support the effort. If our cooperative efforts help Belize Audubon and the birds of the Atlantic Flyway in only a small way, the trip was worth it. For Forsyth Audubon, here’s to next time.

Photo credits: Phil Dickinson, Kitty Jensen, Shelley Rutkin

This is the fifth in a series of five posts.
Previous post: Forsyth Audubon in Belize: Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary

Two members of our group, Jeremy Reiskind and Shelley Rutkin, stayed in Belize for another five days.  Read about that part of the trip on Shelley’s blog:
The Belize “Extension” (Part 1 of 2)
The Belize “Extension” (Part 2 of 2)

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While birding along the 6-mile entrance road to Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary on the morning of January 15, I saw my 1,000th life bird, a White-necked Puffbird.  Park director Nicasio Coc had arranged for Frederico, a senior guide, to accompany us on our way in to the park.  And Frederico was finding the birds for us – Montezuma Oropendola, Chestnut-colored Woodpecker, Slaty-tailed Trogon, Hook-billed Kite, and many more.  I had 10 life birds before we even reached the park boundary.

Hook-billed Kite

Hook-billed Kite

The highlight for Jeremy that morning was not birds, though, but sliding into a ditch.  He had kindly gone back to get our van a few times while the rest of us continued to walk along the road birding.  At one point, he tried his best to get our van up a muddy hill, but on the third attempt up, the van slid back – right into the ditch.  Fortunately, Jeremy was able to hitch a ride to the Visitor Center and our Belize Audubon friends came back with a truck to pull our van back on the road.

Our van in the ditch on the road to Cockscomb

Our van in the ditch on the road to Cockscomb

Jaguar Print

Jaguar Print

Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary is most well known as the world’s first Jaguar preserve.  It also protects the upper watersheds of important river systems and is home to hundreds of species of plants, birds, and other animals.  Jaguars are not seen often, but one of the Audubon staffers told us about separate sightings of an adult male and a female with a young cub just a few weeks ago.  We did not see a Jaguar, but we did find a paw print.

Dan Froehlich and Dan Lipp at banding station

Dan Froehlich and Dan Lipp at banding station

After a quick look around the Visitor Center, most of us headed off to the banding station that is part of Ph.D candidate Brett Bailey’s multi-year research project.   The goal of the study is to identify a suite of birds that can be used to best represent ecosystem health.  This information can then be used to guide future management decisions.

Katherine with Northern Schiffornis

Katherine with Northern Schiffornis

We had up close views of both new and familiar birds at the banding station.  We watched as bands were applied and birds were examined and measured.  Several of us were able to hold birds in hand for release.  Even Frederico wanted to release a bird, so he was handed the feisty Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner, one of my favorites and a bird that we did not see anywhere else.

Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner

Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner

Phil with Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher

Phil with Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher

Frederico with Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner

Frederico and Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner

After lunch, Katherine delivered eBird training to another enthusiastic group of Belize Audubon staff members.  Afterwards, one of our eBird students, Marvin Casey, hung around watching birds with some of us near a fruit feeder.  The birds included a gorgeous Red-crowned Ant-Tanager, a life bird for all of us including Marvin.  It was late afternoon and we needed to leave, but on our way to the van Marvin spied a Kinkajou in the treetops.  Marvin, Katherine, and I all had great looks at the Kinkajou and we wanted to share it with the others.  I ran all the way to the van where the group was gathering and breathlessly shouted “Kinkajou, KINKAJOU!!!”  Everyone got to see the adorable little mammal with the big eyes, round ears, and long tail, a wonderful end to a long and happy day.

Kinkajou

Kinkajou

Gray Foxes were common in Belize

Gray Fox

Our mammal list was growing rapidly, with sightings of Peccaries and Gray Fox at Cockscomb in addition to the Kinkajou.

The following morning, we headed to Red Bank with Nicasio, Rebecca, and Dareece from Belize Audubon.  The Scarlet Macaws that I talked about in an earlier post were wonderful and we were thrilled to see them. Our climb up the steep mountain trail rewarded us with looks at some gorgeous birds including a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak and a White-collared Manakin.  Back on the road, we enjoyed the largest diversity of raptors of the trip – Gray, Short-tailed, Broad-winged Hawks, Common Black-Hawk, and both Black and Turkey  Vultures.

Black-cheeked Woodpecker

Black-cheeked Woodpecker

Also, at Red Bank, I finally had a quality view of a Black-cheeked Woodpecker, a species that was close to becoming a nemesis bird for me.  I missed it several times earlier in the trip when everyone else saw it.  A walk up the road was fun, too.  At one stop by a brush pile, we heard a Common Yellowthroat who responded to our pishing.  And, then a cute little Common Tody-Flycatcher popped up right beside him.

Jeremy’s most notable experience that morning was another adventure in the mud.  We started up a dirt road, but it soon became too muddy to continue.  Rebecca skillfully turned the truck around, but Jeremy was not so lucky with our larger, clumsier van.  After carefully making a nine-point turn, on point ten – you guessed it – he got stuck in the mud.  Once again, our friends pulled our van back on the road.

Red Bank is home to a large Mennonite community and we learned a little about their history.  The Mennonites first immigrated to British Honduras in 1958 at the invitation of the government.  The country had a history of reliance on imported goods.  In exchange for farming, the Mennonites would be granted religious tolerance and exemption from military service.  Today they contribute to the Belizean economy, particularly the agriculture sector, with the production of poultry products, eggs, corn, rice, beans, and other produce.  We heard some concern, however, about the vast areas of jungle that the Mennonites are clearing for farming and its environmental impact.  One thing that we know for sure, though, is that the Mennonites make great ice cream!

Plain Chacalaca

We saw many Plain Chacalacas

After lunch, we went back to Cockscomb and checked out the new birding trail that they are establishing near the Visitor Center.  Afterwards, Hooded Warblers hopped around on picnic tables a few feet away while Kitty talked about the Ovenbird that had foraged right at her feet the previous day.  She had not recognized the bird and she could not find it in Birds of Belize.  At first, it had its back to her and the main feature that she saw was its ‘white bum’ as it cocked it tail and hopped around looking for crumbs.  Paying close attention to field marks, Kitty described the bird perfectly, but none of us was able to offer an ID until Jeremy saw the bird, too.  ‘White bum’ is not an official field mark.

Tropical/Couch's Kingbird

Tropical Kingbirds were seen everywhere.

We all loved seeing “our” birds in their winter habitat alongside resident tropical birds.  All too quickly our trip was nearing the end.  We would have only one more full day, which we would use to explore and bird on our own.  What else would we see in Belize?

Photo credits:  Phil Dickinson, Jeremy Reiskind, Shelley Rutkin, Katherine Thorington

This is the fourth in a series of five posts.
Previous post:  Forsyth Audubon in Belize: St. Herman’s Blue Hole
Next post:  Forsyth Audubon in Belize:  Birds Among Mayan Ruins

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