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Day 226 – OBX adventures

After many threats of birdwatching adventures, Mandy and I opted to celebrate her birthday with a very long day spent on the east-facing Outer Banks of NC. We’ve been down to the south-facing coastline many times in my six years here, usually just to go to the beach but we have seen some nice birds on the way to Cape Lookout (Common Nighthawk, Ibises, etc). Saturday was our first venture over towards Roanoke and Hatteras, though.

We began the day at the unearthly hour of 3:00 am. I do not recommend this time to anyone. I can only express my sympathy for my brother, for whom this is a daily occurence with his work schedule being what it is. We promptly fell asleep soon after the four alarms were turned off and didn’t actually get up until 4. Not the ideal start. We gathered our stuff together and were out the door by about 4:45.

We made a quick stop at the store for extra supplies and saw our first bird of the day – a Cardinal. Very exciting I know. The trip was already worthwhile!

The drive was long and mostly promised to be tedious, with the vast bulk spent on one fairly straight road out to the coast. As the pre-dawn light filled the sky we saw a familiar shadow on an exposed branch. Despite the fact that we were running late and it was not a good place to turn around, we did. I pulled off to the side of the road and looked on at the best view I have ever had of a mature Great Horned Owl. He sat there looking magnificent before flying as Mandy tried to capture him through the binoculars and camera method. I don’t think I will ever tire of seeing owls.

Fortunately the opportunity to turn back around was just a mile down the road. It probably set us back five minutes but it was well worth it. We saw no other birds until we started hitting the bridges over the vast expanses of water. The first was the Laughing Gull. No great excitement there. We also saw a large number of Greater Black Backed Gulls. I’m always stunned at how large they are. I know I shouldn’t be by now, but when you see Laughing Gulls all the time you get used to that being the size of a gull, so when another one comes along which is up to double the size it takes you by surprise.

Videos were taken of the size of Alligator river, which is just as well, because my writing would not do it justice. Needless to say that when you begin to cross you can barely see the other bank on the horizon. It is immense, and the bridges offer wonderful views, especially when they are elevated to allows ships to pass under. From the top of the bridge you can see a very long way indeed.

Our first stop was at the Bodie Island Lighthouse. It looks like this:

As we pulled into the car park we added Robin, Mockingbird, Mourning Dove and Kildeer. We also saw our first little group of proper waders (I don’t include Kildeer in that discussion). After much inspection and reference to our bird book we believed them to be Sanderlings still in their summer clothes. Having encountered literally dozens of the chaps later, all wearing their winter outfits, we are left confused as to what they may have been. Really need to brush up on our wading birds.

At the parking lot we also saw a Great Egret flying overhead, and a mystery white bird which we could not lock in the binocs properly. We eventually got an ID on him later. We were able to see one new bird in the parking lot, though, and that was the Solitary Sandpiper. This was another one which took an awful lot of studying in the book before we could accept it.

Across the road from the lighthouse is Coquina Beach. When we arrived it was nearly deserted by humans but teeming with birds. We were able to add the Brown Pelican, Double Crested Cormorant and Willet (there were a lot of Willets), in addition to all the Sanderlings. The real highlight of Coquina, though, was the terns.

A little way down the beach was a mixed flock of terns. We slowly crept up towards them and identified four of the species, though there may have been more. We added Royal Tern and Common Tern to our BY list, and Least Tern and Sandwich Tern for the day. After a good time to look it became clear the Royal Terns were the white birds we had seen earlier.

Our next stop was on Pea Island, a National Wildlife Refuge, and part of Hatteras Island. The refuge is about 13 miles long with a few key stopping points along the way. Our first port of call was a viewing platform between two large lakes. There we encountered Audrey, perhaps our greatest piece of luck all day.

Before we were able to fully take advantage of Audrey and her magnificent scope, we added Red-Winged Blackbird, Grey Catbird and the Boat-Tailed Grackle to our list. We were at 21 species for the day, but just three new species at that point. With Audrey’s assistance we added several wading birds, many of them lifetime firsts – Black-Bellied Plover, Short-Billed Dowitcher, Marbled Godwit and the fantastic Black-Necked Stilt. The plovers and stilts are fantastic to look at, very striking. The stilts are very amusing too.

At that same platform I was finally able to add another of my Pokémon birds, one I should have added a long time ago – the Snowy Egret. That put me at 9/12 for the heron family. It also took us to 27 for the day and eight new species. Things were looking up.

We decided we would try to get a little further down the path beyond the platform, but quickly abandoned the plan after being mobbed by large biting flies. We later we informed they were Asian Striped Tiger Mosquitos, but looking at the pictures of them I’m not convinced. Either way they were unpleasant and biting and very resistant to swatting. Video evidence will back this up.

We finally arrived at the visitor centre for the refuge and were very pleased we did. The centre overlooks a lake and they very kindly provide four high-power, high quality spotting scopes – free to the public to use. We’d heard mutterings of the possibility of another bird I was eager to see there – the Reddish Egret – and this was confirmed at the centre. There was one out on that lake. We scoured the water in the last known location of the bird without success but added quite a number of species while there – Eastern Kingbird, Tri-Coloured Heron, Barn Swallow, Osprey, Forster’s Tern and some new ones – Ruddy Turnstone, Black Skimmer, Black Tern, Greater Yellowlegs. The Tri-Coloured Herons were so amusing – we probably saw a dozen or more of them, and they were japing around in the shallow water, they’d flap and jump and take a quick stab at the water. It was a magnificent display.

We decided we needed to risk the bugs again and head down the path on the other side of the lake in search of the Reddish Egret. We were pleasantly surprised by the lack of buglife and instead were rewarded with some wonderful views of some lovely birds. We added the Carolina Wren, Brown-Headed Cowbird and new species in the form of the Lesser Yellowlegs, Herring Gull and Semi-Palmated Plover (he looks a lot like a Kildeer but actually does the shorebird thing).

We also saw an immature Reddish Egret!

Like the Tri-coloured herons, he was very amusing to watch and it really was a thrill to see he in action.

We added just one more bird for the day, the humble Starling, but despite seeing almost nothing new after noon we felt like the day was a storming success. Total count was 43 species, 17 of them new and many of those lifetime firsts.

The rest of the day also happened, but I feel Mandy will tell that better. For now I will say that the day was a fantastic experience and I would not be surprised if we try to make it out there again. Certainly we’ll be looking to take the Parental Units there on their next visit here. There’s plenty to keep everyone entertained.

Total count: 148

Very pleased to announce that I had the absolutely unexpected pleasure of spotting another one of my Pokemon list – the heron family – this weekend. After much sadness at not getting out and birding more, Mandy and I decided to remedy the situation and headed out to our favourite birdwatching location – River Park North. 

The park has been struggling with flooding recently but fortunately the waters had receded enough for us to access the whole park again. We were not left disappointed. We saw what may have been a very interesting duck – it wasn’t, it was just a female Wood Duck on her own. Some birds you are so used to seeing in mixed groups you forget what they look like without their male counterparts. 

After venturing deeper into the park we saw a few of the usual suspects – the kingfishers, noisy Ospreys on the nest, cormorants. It wasn’t until I was at the point of turning around in frustration at the number of mosquito bites that things started to get interesting. 

As with our visit in June, we saw the Indigo Bunting again. I’m not sure I’ll tire of seeing them. We also we given the most superb view of the Barred Owl to date. It flew in across the path in the swampy section and perched in a bare tree. We had a great view of its back, it was only a few feet off the side of the path, but it refused to turn around. We were able to walk up past the tree and look at it face on. It stared at us momentarily, clearly irritated, and then took flight with a hiss or two. It was a wonderfully awe-inspiring sight. 

Obviously we couldn’t stop birding just then – so we carried on. Barely a minute later we saw a heron over to the right of the path. It looked a brownish grey with a dark beak and yellow legs. Neither of us had grabbed the bird book and we cursed ourselves for this as we were faced with this enigma. We knew there were only two birds it could be:


The first is the Yellow Crowned Night Heron, the second is the Black Crowned Night Heron, both immature. Note the grey tones on the former, and the yellow on the beak of the latter. That was the key in determining the new species. This was most definitely the Yellow Crowned Night Heron – just 10 minutes from our house! 

I now have 8 of my 12 herons sighted. I am left with the Reddish Egret (I have high hopes for this soon), the Least and American Bitterns (I have slim hopes for both of these) and the conspicuous by its absence Snowy Egret. 

Overall bird count has risen to 131 after finally seeing Rich’s much-hyped-but-never-seen Spotted Sandpiper at the pond behind PCC. 

Stay tuned for more updates hopefully sooner rather than later. 

Yikes it has been a while since my last blog. Please accept my apologies. As Rich pointed out, birding has taken somewhat of a back seat due to the weather and other craziness. 

Much to bring you up to speed with. A couple of days after the now infamous Painted Bunting sighting I was able to add the delightful Eastern Kingbird to my list. We see them regularly now down our road and even opposite my job. They are very charming little chappies. 

That was it for May. June wasn’t a huge amount better. We did venture down to Atlantic Beach on the first, but the sand was too hot for any proper birding. We were able to identify the Sandwich Tern, thanks to it’s distinct beak, but there were other terns there we could not pin down. Likewise there were a few waders flying about but going too fast for us to get anything solid on. It was very frustrating. We’ll have to try again and hope for better luck. 

On June 21st we ventured to RPN for our photography weekly challenge (follow here at and were able to add a few birds along the way. First was the Indigo Bunting, which I did not expect to see in these neck of the woods, having only ever seen it once previously in the Smoky Mountains. It kept flitting from perch to perch, singing sweetly for us. I was also able to add the striking Yellow-Billed Cuckoo. I have never before seen a cuckoo here or in England so this was most welcome. I had heard them more than once prior to that viewing. I was most ably assisted by my darling Mandy in finding this one. 

We defintely intend to get out and birding a little more, and hopefully that shall happen again soon. I’ll also work on making this WordPress version of the blog a little prettier. 

Hopefully there will be more to come soon. Current count, 129 (and seven wild mammals)

Having spent much of the last week feeling utterly crap, birdwatching hasn’t been of the highest priority. We have enjoyed hearing a lot of our common residents, like the Peewee and Flycatcher. Last Saturday during my birthday Nerf War we had a Mississippi Kite fly directly over the house (first one spotted doing that this year, but we saw a couple last year as well). I think we can now officially call that a yard bird. We’re also pretty sure we’ve been hearing Bobwhites out there somewhere, but neither of us has had the energy to go looking for them just yet. 

The real excitement came last night when I saw something red and dark flying away from the feeder. I was unsure what it could be, it didn’t look right for a cardinal or the summer tanager. A short while later it was back and, with binoculars located, we confirmed the most unexpected garden visitor so far – the Painted Bunting! 

We called Rich, not to rub salt in the wound, we’re not like that, but to let him know that we had a very confirmed sighting and wasn’t that awesome? He confirmed that it was indeed awesome and that if we see him again on a separate day then we could reasonably conclude that we are dealing with a local visitor, rather than someone passing through. 

We are, obviously, keeping our eyes peeled. It would be amazing to have resident buntings. Still no joy finding my own Eleanor, but I am hopeful of better luck when we head out to the outer banks, probably in June some time. 

Here’s a piccy of the Bunting, just so you know how amazing they look. 


When I stopped yesterday we were heading out from Patsy Pond for the Bogue Sound. Now, I realise since I started writing my first post both Mandy and Rich have completed their own accounts, but whatever, you’re getting mine in it’s fullness anyway. silly

The second thing we saw as we entered the nearly-vacant housing development was a distinctly tern shaped bird splashing down into the nicely sculpted ponds near the entrance. The first thing we saw were three Canada Goose families, complete with goslings. Each group were different ages, they were stupidly cute. We investigated the tern closer and concluded it was, based on size and the yellow bill, a Least Tern (Little Tern if you are on the other side of the pond). It gave us a fantastic display and got a nearby Killdeer all riled up. 

We continued further in the development and stopped suddenly at the sight of several sizeable white birds with some reddish-brown patches. As has been revealed previously, they were indeed Cattle Egrets, one of my 12 Pokemon birds and one I feared might elude me. In the end we saw a couple of other small groups of them, they were lovely to see and utterly unexpected. 

Cattle Egret Photo

We drove over a bridge and stopped for a wee game of Pooh Sticks, and to watch some purple martins and bank swallows swoop-de-looping around. We also we visited by a Red-Winger Blackbird, such an underrated chap. 

We realised we’d reached something of a dead end and were about to turn around when a giant grackle appeared in front of us. It took very little work to confirm the Boat-Tailed Grackle, so much larger and more impressive than its common brothers. We thought there might be a better spot to get the the water, so we turned around and headed back over the budge bridge. As we did we saw a meadowlark and a Cardinal. Both are always welcome and the cardinal was one of the staples missing from our day. 

We found a great place to see the sound, and were greeted by another wonderful Least Tern display, possibly a couple of males scrapping over a lass, and more of the grackles. We also disturbed a Willet, notable for the white markings on the wings in flight and in the distance could see a Great Egret. 

There were other birds visible as well, a dark blueish heron – either a Little Blue or a Tricoloured. Mandy and I were hoping for LBH while Rich was happy with either, but the Tricoloured would be more unusual. We confirmed it as a Little Blue as it flew away and bore none of the white so distinctive for the Tricoloured. We were also rewarded for our patience and tramping through the bogs with an American Oystercatcher. They are very reminiscent of their English cousins and very welcome indeed. That one was a first for my life list, along with many of the new birds that day. 

We finally abandonned the sound, the day well advanced, and drove home. Mandy and Rich napped a little and I just about didn’t, which is good since I was behind the wheel. 

After depositing Rich, Mandy and I made a brief stop at RPN to try and hit the 50 mark and were rewarded with 10 new species for the day, but sadly no new species for the year. We added Rock Dove, Robin, Brown Thrasher, Grey Catbird, Great Blue Heron, Carolina Wren, Wood Duck, American Goldfinch, Downy Woodpecker, a striking Yellow Rumped Warbler in his Spring outfit and a Tufted Titmouse. 

Final tally for the day was 52 species, with 12 new ones for me, taking me to 123 for the year. 

That would be that, except the next morning we popped out the some mountain bike trails nearby and we were able to identify a White-Eyed Vireo after a long time looking at the markings and then checking the call when we got home. It’s nice to have two vireos on the list, but there are so many more we haven’t got yet!

To my knowledge no-body has yet posted about our fantastic, much-hyped and somewhat delayed ex-po-tition to Croatan National Forest, down in Craven and Carteret Counties. So here we go…

As with previous long distance trips we started early, leaving our house to arrive at Rich’s around 5:30, of course we were late. Nevertheless we did get him and headed out down towards the coast. We started slowly, a Turkey Vulture or three and crows and starlings the only things we saw before we reached New Bern. There, as we crossed the bridge, we saw the ever dependable Greater Black Backed Gull sitting on the sign indicating which lane we needed to be in. It’s always good to have reliable birds like that. We also saw our first Laughing Gulls, something Rich had added several weeks prior in his first visit of the year to New Bern. 

We saw nothing else except a few barn swallows while we waiting to turn at a light in Havelock. We followed some sketchy sounding directions which led us to a dirt track we really hoped was the right way. As we arrived it started to rain and a gloom descended heavily over our car, our moods taking a definite downturn. Our first bird sighting in the CNF was a pair of very interesting looking Mourning Doves. We should have known, according to Strangeways 3rd Law of Birding, any bird which looks interest is almost always a pigeon/dove. We continued down the track and we greeted by a Blue Gray Gnatcatcher. 

Finally the trees thinned a little, opening onto American savannah on one side and pine forest on the other. Mandy and I completed our Nuthatch collection with the Brown Headed Nuthatch, sqeaking like a dog toy in the trees. A flash of blue alerted us to the presence of a bird I have been eagerly anticipating – sure enough when we locked on we saw a rich, dark blue and reddish brown wings – a sure sign we were looking at a Blue Grosbeak. 


They really are stunning. With three new species already on the books, we were beginning to feel confident. 

We opted to take a little stroll into the savannah to investigate some interesting noises we could not locate whilst in the car. We added Pine Warbler, Red tailed hawk, Chipping Sparrow and Great Crested Flycatcher to the list, but the real highlight was a new warbler – one of our main reasons for heading to Croatan in the first place. The song was unmistakable but foreign to us, eventually we locked on binocs and were able to confirm the Prairie Warbler. 


They are wonderfully bright little chaps, rather elusive and flighty, but once we were able to get a good view there was no mistaking him. As we continued we added the Carolina Chickadee, Eastern Wood-Pewee (who these days is a staple feature of our yard, calling with his distinctive call ( 

Continuing the dubious guide book (it seems rather dated) we found our next destination – Patsy Pond. It was, in almost all ways, a bit rubbish. We arrived mid morning and most of the birdlife had disappeared, despite the nice cool weather. We saw a Towhee and a bunch of GC Flycatchers again. We did also add a Red-Shouldered Hawk at some point. The highlight, without a doubt, was the major attraction of the Croatan Forest’s pine trees – the Red Cockaded Woodpecker. (

As you can see, it is endangered due to deforestization, it nests only in living pine trees and the furniture industry, especially in NC, is dependant on those trees as well. Thankfully efforts are well underway to assist the species, with nest trees clearly marked to ensure their survival. 

Red-cockaded Woodpecker Photo

They are very attractive woodpeckers, noticeably different because of their bold white cheeks (other woodpeckers of a similar size and design do not have a solid white cheek, usually they are striped). 

As we continued on our way we were able to add an Osprey and Mississippi Kite (Mandy saw the kite ages ago, but it was nice to see them again), as well as other reliable birds you need for a good day of birding – Red Headed Woodpecker, Mockingbird, Bluebird, Blue Jay, Common Grackle, Canada Goose, Cormorant. 

We ate lunch at the car park for Patsy Pond and formed a plan of action. We realised we were very close to Bogue Sound and decided we might get some new birds given that it was a completely different ecosystem to anything we had seen so far. We were not disappointed…


Part Two coming soon…

Another short update for today. Mandy (@SkulkyMoonDog ) took me out into the yard and I was able to see both the Eastern Wood-Peewee and the Great Crested Flycatchers on their regular stomping grounds. They are both very nice birds and something I would not expect to see in our yard. I’ve recently got to wondering if they are new visitors this year or they were here last spring and summer and we just missed them. 

Day 119 – Not Much to Report

Figured I would just get on here to ensure I stay in a good habit, really. Only one new bird to add, from my birthday no less, which was one for my Pokemon list – the Green Heron made its first appearance of the year. Very pleased, as perhaps it indicates I should also soon be seeing the Little Blue Heron and the Snowy Egret as well. 

We were at our favorite lunching destination, behind the college, enjoying a magnificent birthday picnic, when over swooped a crow sized green and red bird with trailing yellow legs. He proceeded to land in a tree on the other side of the pond before moving on to new pastures, well new trees actually. It was a fleeting glimpse but undoubtedly a Green Heron. 

That’s number five out of my twelve bird list. Not too bad. 

There are also rumours of the Blue Grosbeak near the house, as well as an unexpected visit from a Summer Tanager on the 27th. I’ll let Mandy update on the furry sighting as I was not present for that, but all this bodes well for continued birding and mammaling success. 

Hullo, dear readers, and welcome to another installment of the Big Year with OrnithologicalMoonDog. As previously documented by @SibyBigYear, our planned trip to the Croatan National Forest was a wash out so we opted for the ever reliable (and close) River Park North. I shalln’t go into all the details as Rich covered them well enough, though I will give a full list of the 40 species sighted on the day and news of a very welcome return in the garden at home. 

At RPN we, that is @SibyBigYear @SkulkyMoonDog and I, saw:

American Crow
Common Grackle
Canada Goose
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Great Blue Heron
Double Crested Cormorant
Turkey Vulture
Tufted Titmouse
Carolina Chickadee
Osprey (and what a view that was!)
European Starling (No European Starling, No you are!)
Prothonatary Warbler
Grey Catbird
Carolina Wren
Ruby Throated Hummingbird
Great Egret
Wood Duck
White Throated Sparrows
Barred Owl (again! so amazing!)
Blue Winged Teal
Northern Cardinal
Wild Turkey
Chimney Swift
Red Shouldered Hawk
Summer Tanager
White Breasted Nuthatch
American Robin
Red Bellied Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Red Eyed Vireo
Pileated Woodpecker
Belted Kingfisher
Tree Swallow
Purple Martin
Red Tailed Hawk
Mourning Dove
Northern Mockingbird
Rock Dove

40 species in one day, six new for my records. Those new birds were all very exciting, too, so vibrant and distinct, except the Vireo which was a pain in the butt. 

As we chilled the next morning we heard a familiar but long-absent call in our yard. We scurried outside and gazed up into the trees and saw Randolph, and friendly neighbourhood Red-Headed Woodpecker! One of the easier sets to complete, the woodpeckers are no less striking for that. We are now just one away – the Red Cockaded Woodpecker, and we hope to add him to the list when we finally make it to Croatan. 

Current count is 108 species, with fourteen of those coming this month. 

Day 100 – Bird 100

It is rather fitting, I believe, that today I saw my 100th species on Day 100 of the Big Year. 

I was sitting quite peacefully at the pond behind Pitt Community College as I often do on lunch, and was disturbed from my lunch by some swallows flying around and making a hubbub. They started getting closer and closer to the car, but were moving too fast for me to see if they were anything other than the Barn Swallows I assumed they were. I assumed incorrectly. 

Without warning one of the little blighters landed right on the wing mirror, gave me a brief glance and took flight again after a little hop. It was a pale brown on top and dirty white underneath; eminently not a barn swallow. With no bird book to guide me I cut short my lunch-time lazing and headed back to work to confirm the identity of my lunch guest. I am pleased to say it was a Bank Swallow, presumably a cousin of the Sand Martins of blighty. Here’s a rough example of what I saw. 

bank swallow