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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Wild, Wild Horses... on the Outer Banks!

Hey, I finally got James to write his first blog post! Below is his account of a recent camping trip he took to the Outer Banks of North Carolina (pretty much the best beaches on the East Coast!) Enjoy, but first, let's set the mood a little bit.

Good song. Great song.

When you think of the outer banks of North Carolina, one of the last islands to jump into your mind is Shackleford Banks and honestly, there's a reason for that. There are few (if any) any buildings on the island, Wild Horses outnumber people 150 to 0 and the bugs are relentless. 

The Cape Lookout Lighthouse from across the inlet

Thankfully, during my camping trip to the island I experienced only two of those three characteristics as a consistent 15 mph wind kept the bugs and scorching heat at bay. The other two characteristics were experienced in full. We didn't change the number of buildings of the island as a forgotten sack with our tent poles in it was left 200 miles away in my friend's living room, so we were forced to construct a surprisingly successful lean-to on the beach front.

Good 'nuff!

From our lean-to we frequently saw the abundant Wild Horses feeding, and if you walked beyond the grassy dunes, you would instantly see 10 to 15 of the small horses. They're said to be the descendants of Spanish Mustangs that survived a shipwreck on the island in the 1500s, which means they've had a long time to become wild!

Real-life Wild Horses -  the Stones would be proud.

But of course, this is a birding blog, so let’s delve into that part of the trip. The birds were fairly plentiful along the abandoned beachfront, undoubtedly a result of the lack of people. When the tide went out, an extensive sand bar was exposed. 

Good habitat, or great habitat?

A quick walk on the sandbar yielded a plethora (two) new life birds for me, mostly in the tern family. The first terns I came across were a pair of the tiny Forster’s Terns. These noisy little birds seemed more or less unperturbed by my presence and allowed me to get quite close.

Adult and immature Forster's Tern - Shackleford Banks, NC

While trying to get closer to these pint-sized birds, I noticed two unmistakable Black Skimmers whipping past, and managed to get one shot off meaning I had my first lifer of the trip!

Black Skimmers - Shackleford Banks, NC

After watching the Skimmers fly off, I looked back to the flats, and saw a much larger tern sitting amongst a ton of Sanderlings, and it tern-ed (lo siento) out to be my second lifer of the trip, a nice looking Royal Tern

Royal Tern - Shackleford Banks, NC

Continuing along the flats I came across a bird that made the Forster's Terns look big, the Least Tern. This little guy, like the other terns on the flats seemed more or less accepting of my presence. While this guy was not a life bird for me, it was a far better look then what I was getting with my first Least Tern out in San Diego’s Famosa Slough. 

Least Tern - Shackleford Banks, NC

The walk around yielded one more little nugget, in a nice look of a Sandwich Tern which, like the Least Tern, was not a life bird, but still a significantly better look than my first look at one over the bay of the small town of San Vicente de la Barquera in northern Spain. 

Sandwich Tern in the States this time! - Shackleford Banks, NC

The last sighting of the trip was, not surprisingly, the seemingly omnipresent Laughing Gull. The juvenile Laughing Gull had been fending off a small section of beach next to the “ferry” pick up spot for around 15 minutes, but despite his best guffawing he could not get this Laughing Gull to leave him alone. 

Adult and immature Laughing Gulls - Shackleford Banks, NC

Following the trend of the majority of the birds on this trip, this was not a lifer bird but a far better picture than the previous one taken down in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. Soon after, the boat showed off to take us back to the mainland, wrapping up a successful camping/birding trip to the Outer Banks.

Wild, wild horses couldn't drag me away

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