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Friday, August 19, 2011

North Point or Bust!

There are some days that you can just look at your birding brother and go, damn that was a good day of birding! Our last full day on Ocracoke was one of these days. Not so much the birds we found (though we found some good ones), but also more the manner in which we found them. For our last day, we decided to head to Ocracoke’s North Point, a place that is normally a diminutive beachfront, but come low tide, extends itself by several hundred feet.

James found this juvenile Tricolored Heron before we'd even left!

Not wanting to walk the sandy beach in hiking boots, I instead decided to go for something I’d call “birding casual” – barefoot, wading through the mud and water, just trying to get as close to the birds as possible. With a cool breeze coming off the ocean, it’s definitely the most relaxed birding experience I’ve ever had. Oh, and did I mention there were birds? Lots and lots of birds! Immediately we came upon a large flock of gulls, terns, and skimmers.

Royal Terns were by far the most common terns I found on Ocracoke

James really took his Jackal mode to the next level, and decided to lie on his stomach to sneak up on the birds. And amazingly enough, the birds didn’t seem to mind! The Common, Forster’s and Least Terns that abounded in the colony were quite content to let this human into their midst, and even this Black Skimmer couldn’t bring himself to fly away.

Zoom in and you can see a series of grooves along the bill - anyone know what they're for?

That is, until I saw one very acrobatic white bird bank and juke over the salt flats. I raised the alarm to James, who immediately stood up to take the shot, causing some of the Least Terns to flush. Unfortunately, the pics didn’t turn out, and it looked like it might be lost to the ages. We rounded the corner, and as James crawled on his stomach towards another group of terns, and he asked me to check the bird closest to him with the scope. “Holy crap!” I exclaimed, “Gull-billed Tern!”

Only he wouldn't turn around for us dangit!

The Gull-billed Tern was a lifer for both of us, and to see one on the landed on the ground at close range like this really added another level to the sighting. As James tried to photograph an uncooperative nearby adult Tricolored Heron, we watched as something snow-white flew onto the flats and ended up landing right next to him, leading to what is probably my closest-ever sighting of a White Ibis, and a very nice looking individual at that!

I don't think I will ever get tired of White Ibises!

From there, we scoped out every flock of terns and gulls around to try and find a Black Tern, or maybe something better. No dice, but by the time we’d run out of Piping Plovers and Sanderlings to look at, we were all the way out on the northern point of the island. On our right the majestic Atlantic Ocean lapped the shore, and to our left we could see Hatteras just a couple thousand feet away, with the Hatteras Village water tower visible just past that. As we waded back along the white sand shores, this Ruddy Turnstone ran parallel to us, pausing to eat when it could. And with that, our Ocracoke adventure was over.

Is there a more beautiful shorebird?

It seemed to have ended before it even began, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. James and I got several lifers on this trip, and had many more great birding experiences. If you ever get a chance to bird the Outer Banks of North Carolina, I highly recommend it. Just, stay away from guys with giant pickups… they might not take too friendly to your kind ‘round there!


  1. What a great trip! Congratulations on all the lifers. Keep up the good birding, guys! -Madeleine from Whatbird.

  2. Thanks Madeleine! James has to go back to college here in a week or so, but hopefully this winter should be especially fruitful!