Friday, February 6, 2015

Great Birding on the Outer Banks

I spent last weekend at the Carolina Bird Club’s winter meeting in Nags Head, north Carolina; and I am still recovering! Two consecutive days of multi-mile hikes in soft sand out to Cape Point in Buxton took a physical toll. But it’s a special place way out on the beach in the winter when the only living creatures are the flocks of ducks and seabirds and a small group of birders.

Saturday was brutal to say the least. Morning temperatures of 27 F with winds blowing about 25 mph made clothing in five layers essential. But the birds showed up and did not disappoint.

Below are some of the rarities that the groups I led got to see. These are all great birds to find in North Carolina:

Purple sandpipers are found at only a few locations in NC. Don't look for them on the beach sand though. These birds love rock jetties, bridge abutments, bulkheads, and other hard structure. We found this species at the Oregon Inlet groin.
Purple Sandpiper by Jeff Lewis.

Iceland gulls are much sought-after birds among the winter gull flocks on the Outer Banks. They are scarce but are pretty easy to pick out among their congeners. The Iceland gull is the pale gull on the far right. Note how the wingtips are white in comparison to the other gulls that have dark wingtips.
Iceland Gull with Herring Gulls at Wanchese Harbor by John Ennis

Razorbills staged a major movement just off the beach up and down the Banks. These birds are the northern hemisphere's answer to penguins. The colors are the similar but they are capable of flight, enabling them to nest on steep ocean cliffs far to our north.
Razorbill by Jeff Lewis

This is the world's smallest seabird, a dovekie. About the size of a starling, these birds belong to the same family as the razorbill. They also staged a flight along the beach, a pretty rare sight for NC.

Not all of the rarities were seabirds. A small flock of snow buntings with one Lapland longspur thrown in have been wintering way out at Cape Point this winter. Both of these species occur on bare ground or sand with no trees or shrubs. Cape Point is perfect.We were lucky enough to see them on one of the treks out there.
Snow Bunting by Jeff Lewis

Lapland Longspur by Jeff Lewis

Perhaps the rarest of all was a harlequin duck at the Rodanthe pier for the whole weekend. Our bird was a female or immature male type, similar to the bird on the far left. The males are stunning.
Harlequin Ducks by John Ennis