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DVOC Field Trip Report

May 29 - June 1, 2008
North Carolina “Surf & Turf Specialties”

Leader: Adrian Binns

Click Here for pictures by Martin Delllwo

6 of us piled into 2 vehicles and left Philadelphia bright and early Thursday morning. Following the obligatory Wawa stops our first birding location was an hour at Kiptopeke State Park just north of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel. Here we watched numerous Common Tern fishing besides the platform along with Brown Pelicans and Ospreys. Prairie and Pine Warblers were heard singing in the pines along the entrance road. The highlight however was a stunning Grasshopper Sparrow singing its heart out from several low vantage points in a recently mowed field. Pushing on a real surprise was to find 5 Purple Sandpipers feeding on the rocks near the bay Bridge restaurant. We also picked up our first Gannet here. By mid afternoon we had reached the Outer Banks where Michael, Don and Al joined us. We made numerous stops as we headed south to Pea Island NWR. Beginning at the Kitty Hawk Rest Area we had a confiding Field Sparrow and Eastern Towhee. Coquina Beach produced 10 Red Knots and a Whimbrel, along with a sunbather covered only in the most minuscule g-string who obviously felt rather uncomfortable having 9 of us look through optics in his direction. Really, we were looking for Piping Plover, really. The water levels at the Bodie Lighthouse pond and Pea Island impoundments were very high which curtailed the amount of shorebird and tern activity. Southern water birds including Tri-colored Heron and White Ibis could easily be seen along with a Black-necked Stilt and a few Dunlin and smaller peeps at the later location. A walk across the dunes and along the beach at Pea Island produced Black Skimmers, Lesser Black-backed Gull and while Don lagged behind he got the benefit of seeing a Gull-billed Tern. At Oregon Inlet, while careening across the thick sands in 4-wheel drive, we came across a Common Loon, sadly expired under the tangle of fishing line wrapped around it’s body.

Our second day would be the first of two pelagic trips aboard the Country Girl led by Paul, Mike, Bill, Mary and Angus. It was a beautiful day with calm seas. We got some great looks at a great many of the more expected species for this time of year. Cory’s Shearwaters were the most abundant with a flock of about a hundred in a feeding frenzy towards the end of the trip. One Sooty Shearwater sat on the water near the bottom if only for a short time while a few others showed from time to time and we got tro see a handful of the smaller shearwater, Audubon’s. One Greater Shearwater in particular was very cooperative as its eyes were bigger than its stomach and it chased and caught the bait fish on one of our lines! It was released and no damage was done. The similarly-patterned Black-capped Petrels were scarcer and most stayed a good distance away but we could still see the difference between the two. Of course there were many Wilson’s Storm-petrels pitter-patting on the water surface with the yellow of their webbed feet occasionally showing. We got a nice showing of Leach’s Storm-petrels but the Band-rumps views were fast and brief. There was great excitement when a South Polar Skua put on a wonderful show circling the boat as did a Pomarine and Parasitic Jaeger. Our only tern species was a lone Arctic and we had a handful of Pilot Whales and Bottle-nosed Dolphins along with one Ocean Sunfish. With lines trawling for fish, Vincent aka Love Boat Captain Stubing, reeled in a 35 pound Yellow-finned Tuna while Paul pulled in one a little larger.

In order to get our sea legs back to normal, Saturday was spent between Alligator River NWR and Palmetto Peartree Preserve (3P). Our targets here were Swainson’s Warbler and Red-cockaded Woodpecker respectively. We began with 3 hours in Alligator River NWR which is full of calling Prothonotary Warblers. We did manage to find one Swainson’s that was vocal but it would never come out from the pocosin woods. Northern Parula, the ubiquitous Prothonotary, Prairie and Common Yellowthroat were far more cooperative. A Barred Owl flew across the road and was seen perched briefly before flying away. In the open meadow Bobwhite called incessantly and a few showed themselves, while a Blue Grosbeak perched atop a small pine tree and Eastern Meadowlarks flew short distances before dropping into the grasses. At 3P the Red-cockaded Woodpeckers were busy feeding their young. Brown-headed Nuthatches stayed in the tops of the pines as did Pine and Yellow-throated Warblers. Great Crested Flycatchers were more visible and just as noisy while a White-eyed Vireo was vocal. Of note was a Northern Cardinal doing a pretty good impression of a whip-poor-will. Red-headed Woodpeckers, Indigo Buntings and Yellow-billed Cuckoo showed well and we got to see our only Bald Eagle perched along the shoreline of the Albermale Sound. We split up for lunch with the younger crowd opting for lunch at a picnic table back at the Elizabethan and the others for what turned out to be a long drawn-out affair and highly discounted meal, if you could call it that, at Big Al’s. There will be stories told about this one for some time to come…..

By 4pm we were working our way down Buffalo City Road the western section of Alligator River NWR. It was quiet with the exception of a one Worm-eating Warbler, Carolina Wren, Blue Grosbeak, Yellow-billed Cuckoo and of course plenty of Prothonotaries. We bumped into Tom who happened to be in the process of catching a large Yellow Rat Snake. Of course most of us were happy to take turns holding it before releasing it back on its journey. We made a late day run down Milltail Road for mammals with some of the group getting looks at Black Bear, Mink and Bobcat, but undoubtedly the highlight must have been the young 2 foot Canebrake Timber Rattlesnake that took its time to cross the gravel road.

It was back into the Gulf Stream on our last day, though the seas were considerably rougher than our first trip. We hugged the Outer Banks down to Cape Hatteras, where gannets were a common sight and then high tailed eastwards into very deep water. Our first two birds were the highly sought after Herald and Bermuda Petrels (Cahow). With high winds the birds cut through the air at tremendous speed and covered a great distance in a short time. While a good many of us got on both birds it was the leaders experience with these species that enabled them to point out the field marks. If only they had been closer! Our next Pterodroma would be Black-capped Petrel and today we had far better looks at these than 2 days ago. Actually that was also the case with Audubon’s Shearwater’s and Band-rumped Storm-petrels.

We had 8 mammals (Muskrat, Mink, Atlantic Bottle-nosed Dolphin, Pilot Whale, White-tailed Deer, Bobcat, Marsh Rabbit, Eastern Cottontail and Black Bear); 5 butterflies (Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Palamades Swallowtail, Monarch, Orange Sulphur, Blue sp); 7 reptiles (sea Turtle sp, Diamondback Terrapin, Red-bellied Turtle, Eastern Mud Turtle, Snapping Turtle, Yellow Rat Snake and Canebrake Timber Rattlesnake) and 126 bird species on this trip plus a freshly deceased Common Loon that was caught up in fishing line and Michael had two Mississippi Kites moments before we joined him. (Black-capped Petrel, Bermuda Petrel, Herald Petrel, Cory’s Shearwater, Greater Shearwater, Sooty Shearwater, Audubon’s Shearwater, Wilson’s Storm-petrel, Band-rumped Storm-petrel, Leach’s Storm-petrel, Brown Pelican, Northern Gannet, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Tricolored Heron, Little Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, Cattle Egret Green Heron, Yellow-crowned Night-heron, White Ibis, Canada Goose, Gadwall, Mallard, American Black Duck, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Bald Eagle, Red-tailed Hawk, Peregrine Falcon, Northern Bobwhite, Clapper Rail, Common Moorhen, American Oystercatcher, Black-necked Stilt, Black-bellied Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Killdeer, Whimbrel, Spotted Sandpiper, Willet, Lesser Yellowlegs, Ruddy Turnstone, Red Knot, Sanderling, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Dunlin, Purple Sandpiper, Red-necked Phalarope, Ring-billed Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, American Herring Gull, Laughing Gull, Least Tern, Gull-billed Tern, Arctic Tern, Common Tern, Royal Tern, Sandwich Tern, Black Skimmer, South Polar Skua, Pomarine Jaeger, Parasitic Jaeger, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Barred Owl, Chimney Swift, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Pileated Woodpecker, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Eastern Kingbird, Great Crested Flycatcher, Tree Swallow, Purple Martin, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Barn Swallow, Cedar Waxwing, Carolina Wren, Gray Catbird, Northern Mockingbird, Brown Thrasher, Eastern Bluebird, American Robin, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Blue Jay, American Crow, Fish Crow, European Starling, House Sparrow, White-eyed Vireo, House Finch, American Goldfinch, Northern Parula, Yellow Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler, Pine Warbler, Prairie Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler, Swainson’s Warbler, Ovenbird, Common Yellowthroat, Eastern Towhee, Field Sparrow, Seaside Sparrow, Grasshopper Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Blue Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, Red-winged Blackbird, Eastern Meadowlark, Boat-tailed Grackle, Common Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird)