Birding in Calhoun County and beyond
sI stuck to the homestead upon my return from NC. On March 25th I managed to count out 197 Ring-necked Ducks in the backwater. They were joined by 94 Lesser Scaups, a couple of American Wigeons, and a smattering of Bufflehead.
This was just the beginning of the large numbers of Ring-necked Ducks to be found. On March 26th I walked back to the backwater, and flushed an American Woodcock from less than 6 feet where I was walking. The Woodcock was yardbird #134. This was followed shortly after scanning the backwater with #135, Canvasback. A surprisingly missing bird from the yard list. Ring-necked Duck numbers were at 175, with me undoubtedly missing some around the corners.
March 27th the Ring-necked Duck numbers were up to 256. March 28th I counted 237, with Scaup and Buffleheads continuing. March 29th I only managed 87 Ring-necked Ducks and with 5 American Wigeons mixed in with the Scaup and Buffleheads.
Between the time I returned and the end of March I had racked up 12 new year birds, all from the yard. FOY Golden-crowned Kinglets, Tree Swallow, Eastern Phoebe, Wigeon, Trumpter Swans, Chipping Sparrows, Belted Kingfisher, Woodcock, Canvasback, Gadwall, Brown Creeper and Wild Turkey (finally).
No pictures worth posting from this time period. Most of the looks were through a scope at the various ducks. If I remember correctly the sun wasn't the most cooperative during this time period either. More pics to come in the April update(s).
March 23rd I made it down to the "correct" end of Wrightsville Beach, at the Masonboro Inlet, to try for the Common Eider pair. The sun, even at 7:20 a.m. made seeing East into the Ocean harsh, so I started walking around the North and West sides of the inlet. I was given nice looks of a Red-throated Loon, and some Horned Grebes feeding near each other. Common Loons, Pelicans, Double-crested Cormorants, and more Black Scoters were seen out and about in the inlet.
Some Forster's Terns and Bonaparte Gull provided an excellent photograph opportunity as they were on the North side of the beach. I initially thought I had two different Tern species in the first photograph. The bird in the foreground being a smaller bird than the one in the background. As one would expect at this location there were plenty of other Gulls and Terns to be found, with this Great Black-backed Gull providing a nice photo opportunity also.
The highlight of the visit to Masonboro Inlet turned out to be this banded Piping Plover.
It took me a while to find out who to contact for the band. The pink flag turns out to be ones used by a team combing; "Audubon, Bahamas National Trust, USFWS, Virginia Tech and Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey". He was originally banded on February 7, 2015 in Abaco, Bahamas. He was also resighted on November 19, 2016. What is amazing about this can be seen in the picture below. The top dot represents the GPS coordinates this bird was banded the first time. The dot below it represents where he was resighted over 20 months later!!!! After all that time the bird returned to a spot less than 300 feet from where it was first found.
This was not the end of the story. I received another e-mail with quite an interesting backstory on "Harry Potter". Yes, that was what they named the bird!! You can read all about it here. It is an entertaining story, if you aren't a fuddy-duddy:-)
HP was not the only Piping Plover on the beach. There were 21 others not too far away, and several of them gave me some decent look for pics.
After giving the sun a little bit of time to rise above the horizon, I headed back to the Ocean side to see what I could find. The birds were few and far between, at least to my eyes. Everything was still heavily backlit. In addition to the unseasonably cold weather, the wind was brutal, and kicking up huge waves. One unmistakable shape appeared, on and off, through the waves. I managed to locate one of the Common Eiders, but was unable to locate the other. I'm not sure which one this was, the female or the juvenile male. Not a lifer, but a nice bird to have from North Carolina.
I next headed down to Mason Inlet Waterbird Management Area again. The shorebirds had taken up refuge on the far side to the inlet, so not really allowing for much photographic material. I did manage to find the first Sandwich Terns seen in NC this year. The yellow tip of the black bill being barely visible from across the Inlet.
Around the West side of the Inlet, I was allowed some decent photographic looks at more Forster's Tern, Greater Black-backed Gulls, and this Red-throated Loon trying to down a very W - I - D - E fish.
I didn't hang around and watch long enough to see if he ever succeeded in downing the fish. He definitely was persistent with it while I was watching it. I didn't bring my scope to the Inlet, so didn't stay in one spot for very long. I had one large group of more than 50 White Ibis fly out over the reeds. It was quite a sight to behold as they flew in a line of 3-4 in a long stream. I have to mention that I really enjoy photographing Great Black-backed Gulls. They are HUGE, and they tend to fly nice and straight, making it easy to stay on focus. All and all it ended up being a nice little mix of birds, with yet more unidentified as they flew out over the Ocean, backlit by the Sun.
Still having some time to kill until I met up with family I headed to Airlie Gardens. This was my first trip to Airlie, and I have to imagine it would be amazing during migration. A Red-throated Loon was visible from the dock in Bradley Creek. Quite the surprise seeing on actually inland from the Ocean. One of the treats, and something I expected after seeing numerous checklist with reports, was the numerous Black-crowned Night-Herons. I'm positive I didn't find 1/2, or less, of the birds there. The juveniles in particular are incredibly well camouflaged in the brush around the pond.
Yellow-rumped Warblers were to be found everywhere. I tallied 22 in total. Blue-gray Gnatcatchers were also be found, aplenty, with 7 being seen. I also was given good looks at Red-headed Woodpecker. A bird that tags as rare in Michigan, but I managed looks at two of them. I also was able to watch an Osprey bring in a stick to use in building a nest that overlooked the pond. It was a nice leisurely side trip, and a nice change from the beaches I had been visiting while there.
Lastly for my trip to NC I did manage to snag some pictures of the Brown-headed Nuthatch. It was a great time with family, and some excellent birding considering the time of year. I managed 3 lifers while there, with the aforementioned Brown-headed Nuthatch, Northern Gannet and Black Scoter.
March continued with high numbers of Ring-necked Ducks out on the backwaters, but 46 of them on March 11th was nowhere close to what I would eventually see.
On March 12th I visited some wetlands that were on D DR S just West of 1/2 Mile Road. This excellent spot was found my Zachary Frieben on March 9th. This small flooded field gave excellent looks at a group of Tundra Swan and FOY Rusty Blackbirds, but not much else when I initially visited. The water having frozen back over during a cold spell. I made a few minor stops that same day before hitting up Woodland Park. Nothing significant there, but I did get some of the best Cedar Waxwing shots I have been able to get. All in all 9 FOY birds found on the 12th.
March 15th brought about a big dip. Certainly a nemesis bird for me has become a Northern Mockingbird. Kolb Park had a report of one being sighted around the lake there. My first trip to this park near KCC did not payoff. One of these days I'll get this elusive bird.
This would be my last "trip" in Calhoun county as I would take a trip to North Carolina to see family. Oh, and the Mockingbirds were as plentiful as Robins down there. Just a little salt in the wound...lol. My first "great" bid there, besides the Merlin on the drive from the airport, was a lifer Brown-headed Nuthatch. Worked sooooo hard for that bird as I sat on a couch looking out a window.
March 19th I headed out to Fort Fisher looking for some more lifers, and Harlequin Ducks that had been reported there. Cold temps, heavy waves and the surfer dudes didn't prevent me from catching a group of 22 Black Scoters (lifers), and a distant but ID'able lifer Northern Gannet. No Harlequin Ducks were to be found though. Despite the cold, the sun made for some excellent picture taking opportunities. I managed some of my favorite Osprey pictures ever. I'm still not sure how it managed to fly with this gigantic trout in its talons. Unfortunately it was shortly followed by a Bald Eagle hot on its tail, surely with a plan to steal that hard won fish from the Osprey.
I moved from the Overlook/Outcropping/Gazebo area to the Basin Trail and Aquarium Pond afterwards. I took the long walk through the trails near the pond, and back to the Observation deck. I think I could have stayed there all day. Excellent looks at some birds, but also quite a lot of shorebirds that were nothing but silhouettes in the high sun. 46 species in all in just under 3 hours. Some great looks at Dunlin that landed right in front of me at the Observation Deck. Short-billed Dowitcher flybys; Royal, Forster's and Caspian Terns. Just an excellent looks at birds we don't get up in Michigan (at least away from Moulee).
The Rocks at Federal Point gave some distant views to Red-throated Loons, Red-necked Grebe, and Red-breasted Merganser. The dock was crowded with various gulls, Terns and a White Ibis that provided excellent opportunities for pictures.
The day was not done though. I ventured down to Wrightsville Beach to stop at the Mason Inlet. I meant to go to Masonboro to try for Common Eider, but got my intentions mixed around:-). Some better looks at Northern Gannets were here. Some great looks at 4 different Plover species; Black-bellied, Wilson's, Semipalmated, and a Piping Plover. These along with other expected shorebirds, Egrets and Herons, made the 1.5 hours go by too quick. Another favorite image of mine (to go along with the previous Osprey) was this American Oystercatcher that flew by me.
American Oystercatcher landing sequence
Wow that added up to a ton of pictures from Mason Inlet that I dug. Not so much a blog, as it is a picture show I guess. Probably more than enough for now. All in all not a bad day with 2 lifers to start out, and just great looks at some excellent birds. I will have to do the next NC Field Trip as a separate post.
My exploits in my latest passion, Birding...not Bird-watching;-)