Birding in Calhoun County and beyond
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.
My exploits in my latest passion, Birding...not Bird-watching;-)