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Friday, August 12, 2011

They Taste Like Chicken, Apparently

There are many reasons to like the North Carolina Outer Banks: pristine sand beaches, insular little communities, and great fishing, among others. There’s one reason not to, however: they hate birders. Not all the islands, mind you, but mostly Hatteras, whereupon you can find bumper stickers affixed to large four-wheel drive vehicles that espouse the motto, and I kid you not: “Piping Plovers Taste Like Chicken”. Oh, and then there’s this little gem. (Warning: PG-13!)

So why all the hate? It all comes down to that little endangered species that tastes like chicken, apparently. The Piping Plover breeds all up and down the east coast in infuriatingly small numbers, including several sites along the NC Outer Banks. In an attempt to boost Piping Plover numbers, the National Park Service has mandated that 12 miles of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore be closed to off-road vehicles (ORVs), while 24 miles of the National Seashore remains open. Which, in turn, has ignited the ire of the local ORVing population, because apparently, driving your giant 4runner all over one of the best beaches in the country is some kind of God-given right (cuz, you know, this is ‘Merica!).

Among other God-given rights...

Which brings us to the other morning, when I decided to walk the ORV trail to the southern end of the island. When I finally made it to the beach, I wasn’t greeted to the immaculate view of the Atlantic I had hoped for. No, instead I was faced with hundreds and hundreds of four-wheel drive vehicles that seemed to stretch ad infinitum along the coastline. Still, I pressed on, trying to escape these mechanical behemoths, until the realization set in that it was just not going to happen. So I made my way to the water’s edge, maneuvering my way between a Jeep and a RAV4, and what should I find not yards from these daunting vehicles? None other than a pair of little Piping Plovers.

My lifer Piping Plover! Ocracoke Island, NC - 08/10/2011

Well, they say Piping Plover tastes like chicken, and maybe there’s a reason for that – these little guys are skittish! Any time you get close to them they run away like the fires of Hell are at their tiny little heels. After a little finagling I managed to get a decent shot, and I began to make my way back home. At this point, I got a little lost, and actually managed to walk right past the ORV road back into town. Not that I’m complaining though – a little group of shorebirds contained these nice adult and immature Common Terns squabbling by the surf’s edge.

"Junior, get back here!" "But mooooom!"

And then I noticed something different in the group of shorebirds. It was a plump little thing, something halfway between the size of the obligate Sanderlings and Willets. As soon as I identified it through the scope, I raced over to get a shot – and in doing so noticed two groups of beachgoers walking in opposite directions through the incoming tide. My mouth became agape in horror as, sure enough, the Sanderlings bailed, taking all the other shorebirds with them. It wasn’t meant to be I guess. Until of course I got home, and I realized that my long shot of the shorebirds revealed none other than the bird in question – my lifer (and now ex-nemesis bird) Red Knot!

Red Knot - and still red, too! Ocracoke Island - 08/10/2010

Now truly satisfied with my journey, I began my way back up the ORV road, pausing every once in a while to take a swig of water or to rest my feet (it had been nearly seven miles of walking through sand at this point). During one of these breaks, I heard an odd squeaky chip, and noticed a little bird perch up in the reeds. At first I assumed it was one of the numerous female Brown-headed Cowbirds I noticed earlier. As I swung around the scope to check it out, I noticed the bright yellow lores on an otherwise drab bird, and I realized I had picked up my lifer Seaside Sparrow! I didn’t manage a photo (it dropped down into the reeds before I could), but James had been down that way a couple days earlier and managed this nice photo of his lifer Seaside Sparrow.

Just about every look you get at a Seaside Sparrow - 08/09/2011

With three lifers under my belt, this day stands out as one of my more rewarding birding experiences. Going forward, these lifers are going to stand out like beacons in the night, and I’ll probably forget all about the Herculean effort it took to find them, which is a good thing, because if I never see another gigantic lumbering monstrosity that is a four-wheel drive vehicle, I think I could finally die happy.


  1. Thank you for sharing your experience on the OBX. I had read the posts on the listserv so I am aware of the animosity. It is sad that these bumper stickers really do illustrate well a type of human mentality the wildlife in our country and those that care about it face.

  2. Had no idea about that situation, really sucks but I guess I'm not surprised with the amount of hate in this country by ignorant people.

    Congrats on the lifers though!

    Wish me luck, leaving for the caribbean tomorrow, hope to pick up at least 20 more lifers over the next two weeks.

  3. @Cathy - While we were on Hatteras, we saw a bunch of both bumper stickers, but luckily no actual animosity was experienced... granted we weren't ever hanging around ORVers.

    @Vin - Thanks, and I look forward to hearing about your lifers when you get back! Saw on the forums you got a Roseate Spoonbill recently... insanely jealous!

  4. Hey Rob, actually my last lifer was Roseate Tern. Have seen spoonbills tho in Florida and also NJ, believe it or not!

    I'll let you know how it went when I get back.
    Good birding,

  5. Whoops, that's what I get for skimming. Still, Roseate Tern is a great bird!