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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Birding the 'Banks: Part II - There and Back Again

Hitting up Pea Island and Oregon Inlet were really our main two goals for the day, so afterwards we were a little bit aimless, but I did have a short list of places for us to go. We checked out Bodie Lighthouse to try for some rails (we couldn’t find any) and fruitlessly cruised the Oregon Inlet Fishing Center for a Canebrake Rattlesnake that was supposed to be hanging around. We actually ended up back at Pea Island to check out the beach across the street, a nice place where I’d seen a pair of Merlins at close range this past winter, but as it’s now summer, I didn’t know if we’d be able to find anything.

The first order of business was to get past the beachgoers, and as there weren’t any ORVs at this location, it wasn’t long before we were on the birds. Mostly the usual stuff, like Sanderlings and Willets, with an odd Black-bellied Plover thrown in (including a nice breeding-plumaged one). But one shorebird caught my eye just as it had done the day before. Chilling by a tide-worn sandcastle was a not-so-red Red Knot, and just like my lifer, James’s lifer took off before we could get very close. Still, with the added zoom, the photo didn’t turn out half-bad!

The Red Knots never let us get very close, too bad!

With another lifer out of the way, it was time to visit a place I’ve wanted to bird for a long time: the Salt Pond at Cape Point. In the winter, it’s supposed to be great for things like Snow Buntings, or even a vagrant Common Redpoll, and earlier this summer it hosted a beautiful Red-billed Tropicbird. Walking along the mowed grass path towards the pond, we found this nice Southern Toad trying to hide under a bush. Nothing a zoom lens and a flash bulb can’t fix.

He's doing his best to camouflage himself, but it didn't work!

When we finally reached the pond, the first thing James noticed wasn’t a bird – it was actually a family of River Otters he spied cavorting near the shore. James was pretty psyched about it, he’s never seen a wild one, and I’ve only seen a River Otter once, so we tried to get into the good light. Alas, as soon as we stepped foot on the muddy shore, the otters bolted for the bushes, and we were left with this silhouetted distance shot. Still, I mean – River Otters! How cool is that?

Cooler than Billy Dee Williams drinking Colt 45's on the other side of the pillow

Having learned our lesson, we made our way into the better light where Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers were feeding along the pond’s edge. Not that we really needed any of them, we’d already gotten great pics of both, but we were more interested in the Short-billed Dowitchers that were probing the mud nearby. One of them still retained its burnt-orange breeding colors, but he was having none of James’s sneaking around, so instead we settled for this slightly paler but far more confiding individual.

Actually one of the more common shorebirds hanging around Salt Pond.

The apparent gluttons for punishment that we are, we headed back against the sun, where more dowitchers, sandpipers, and a single Piping Plover were busy doing what birds do best. Just up the shore, I spied a bird that looked like a Yellowlegs that was feeding oddly, and from my experience shorebirding, I knew exactly what to expect. James tried to flank it into the good light, but this Stilt Sandpiper decided he’d rather feed somewhere without annoying humans. In any case, it’s a bird I never get tired of, and a lifer for James to boot!

Sometimes, you just have to settle for back-lit...

With that, it was time to go. We had a ferry to catch and some great birds under our belt (and one great mammal!) but we weren’t through yet. Our car got put on the outside lane of the ferry, and right next to us on one of the wood pylons sat a huge Great Black-backed Gull who gave us stunning looks. At this range its size made it a very impressive bird, and a great way to end our Hatteras adventure!

Looks like he's been doing some swimming!

It’s not over, not by a long shot! Check back Friday to see what lifer James and I picked up on our last full day on the island!


  1. Great post (and a little nod to Tolkien in the title?) My parents are vacationing in the OBX right now, you're making me wish I was there instead of house-sitting for them. Great birds, nice shots!

    And river otters?! Too cool!

  2. @EmilyRose - thanks, yeah actually the two titles for these Hatteras posts are going to be the titles for the new Hobbit movies. Can't wait, just hope they hold up to the books. ;)