Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Look Back at 2011

Overall this has been a very good year in my life and I have been extremely blessed considering the madness that goes on in the world.  There have been far too many losses of family and friends but unfortunately, that is the cycle life.

Communing with nature is one of my great joys; it calms the spirit and soothes the soul.  Looking back through photos from 2011, I considered which were most personnally memorable.  Maybe not the best shots, but which had the most meaning either by interaction with or was such a thrill to see.

#1 had to be the Northern Bobwhite.  On two separate occasions, I spent an hour with this bird.  Mimicking the birds call, I was able to get it to come within 6-8 feet of where I was standing or sitting.  It showed no fear, was curious and spent at least 20 minutes responding back to my whistles.

#2 - Yellow Breasted Chat.  Alone at the park one morning, I heard the bird "chatting" and began imitating it's calls back.  Before long, it approached and stayed very close probably 10 minutes.  Very cool experience to get it to chat back with you.

#3 - Common Yellowthroat feeding Cowbird chick.  For 30 minutes, I watched the Yellowthroat working hard to feed the chick.  The memorable part was just being witness to one of nature's flukes and marveling at the dedication of one species to another.

#4 - Scissor Tailed Flycatcher - First, this is not a bird common to this area.  For two weeks, I would catch a glimpse of this bird but was never able to pull off and try to figure out what it was.  Finally one weekend morning, there it was, no traffic and I was able to confirm what it was.  This was a first for me so I was thrilled.

#5 - Eagle mating ritual.  What more can you say.  Our national bird, beautiful, majestic and powerful.

#6 - Doe nursing fawn.  Not that this is so special but it touched me.  I was able to watch her for about 10 minutes as the fawn nursed and then the doe did a cleaning check on the fawn.  It was such a sweet natural moment that I enjoyed.

#7 - Painted Bunting - They come to the southern coastal area during summer.  Their beauty speaks for itself.  Another first for me.

#8 - Green Heron - Again, nothing so unusal but the enounter was memorable.  One of those rare alone times in the park where for 20 minutes, the GH strolled along the edge hunting.  They are usually so shy and wary that it was memorable from the standpoint of being able to closely observe one for an extended period.

#9 - Dickcissel pair - Again, these are not normal birds to the area and was a first for me.  This pair took up here this year and subsequently nested. Hopefully they will return this year.

#10 - Otter - Late October, a pair of otters stayed at the park for a couple of weeks.  On the day of this photo, I had the thrill of watching them from a hide as they went about doing what otters do. For 20 minutes, I tracked them down the edge of the creek watching their playful behavior and hunting methods.

So these are my top 10 memorable nature moments for 2011.  I look forward to the new year to see what Mother Nature will have in store.  Blessings to all for a wonderful new year and may birding be grand!

Friday, December 30, 2011


It was a beautiful day.  Mostly sunny and high around 63 deg.  Unfortunately, I was not able to do much birding.  Heat died on me Wednesday night and I had to lay the unit to rest.  With the age of the unit and estimated repair cost, I just had to go ahead and bite the bullet and get a new system....ouch!  Fortunately they were able to get installed today so heat tonight will feel good.

I spent most of the day doing some much needed winter chores in the yard.  As I was out working, I noticed that the bluebirds kept flying to the houses and checking them out.  I usually clean the houses out around Thanksgiving but let it slip past me this year.

Off to get a bucket of water with mild bleach solution.  I cleared out remnants of the past  nesting season, scrubbed the interior and propped open to air and dry well.

Usually in February, they really start their scouting for potential nesting areas.  I think the warm weather has their timeline skewed.  With some luck, they will now return to a nice clean house.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Southern Flying Squirrel

Glaucomy's Volans
Class:  Mammalia           Order:  Rodentia        Family:  Sciurdae

Length including tail from 8/1/2 to 9 7/8 inches.  Weight 2-3 oz. for an adult.

Range: Found throughout NC in urban areas and in hardwood and mixed pine forests. They prefer tree cavities with openings 11/2 to 2 inches in diameter.  They also favor bluebird boxes and atics (which is where this one was captured).

Food:  Omnivorous
Breeding:  twice a year - January/February  then June/July
Average litter is 1-6

Cute Factor:  10+

Friday, December 23, 2011

Curious Birds

A flying squirrel that was live trapped in the atic was taken outside and set free this morning.  I selected a tree that had several holes to provide a living space.  When the cage door opened, up the tree it went to the highest hole.

Off and on today, I went out with hopes of spotting the Brown Creeper again (which I did) and noticed there was a great deal of interest in the tree with the Flying Squirrel from a large variety of birds.  Bluebirds, Pine Warbler, Titmice, Chickadees, Finches and a Red Bellied Woodpecker were a few of the curious.

Over and over the curious birds checked out the hole then the remainder of the holes in the tree.  Some were braver than others and peered directly in, while others sat nearby and fussed.  It was quite amazing to watch the behavior of the various birds.  By the end of the day, I actually felt very sorry for the little squirrel.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Winter....not yet anyway

Mother Nature snubbed her nose at Old Man Winter today and said no, no, no.  The birds were taking advantage of the warm weather and increased insect activity. A couple of hours of sunshine this morning but heavy cloud cover has now moved in.

Late this afternoon I walked out in the yard when I saw bits of green poking through the leaves.  All the warm weather has the daffodils confused and they are already coming up.  If / when the cold hits, I guess this will be a spring without them.  An Eastern Towhee was doing some serious jumping and scratching on the ground.

As I was walking in the yard, I noticed a pair of little birds really working an oak tree.  When I realized they were Brown Creepers, I dashed inside for the camera.  They had moved on up the tree a bit unfortunately.  From what I can recall, this is my first time seeing them in the yard.  Hopefully they will stick around for a while for another photo opportunity on a day with better lighting.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Immature Red-Tailed Hawk

Despite being on vacation, I had to go by work for about 30 minutes this morning.  The sun was out and beginning to erase the chill of the night so I grabbed my camera before leaving home.  There is an eco research area near where I work that is part of the Museum of Natural Science and I often see several hawks flying over the fields looking for food.

This morning I had the opportunity for close observation of form and flight.  On several previous visits and again today, when I walk the hawk flies overhead watching.  Little field mice scurried through the grasses as I walked by.   I kept expecting the hawk to swoop down and eventually it did.  Mouse for breakfast.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Vacation Day 3 - Thursday - MacKay NWR

I left Mattamuskeet about 1400 on Wednesday.  I was debating at this point whether to pack it in or continue on to my next planned destination of MacKays NWR on Knotts Island in the far NE part of the State.  When I reached the turn off road which was the point of decision I decided to go for it.  I spent the night in Elizabeth City which was about the closest place to find accomodations. 

I did not leave the motel too early the next morning.  The first ferry over to Knotts Island was at 0630 and priority was to school buses and residents "priority" folks.  Being in unfamiliar territory and knowing I was in an area of high density deer populations, I planned for catching the 0900 ferry.

I arrived at the Currituck crossing and had some time to kill so I pulled out the laptop and looked at the previous days pictures.  I noticed a school bus sitting and waiting off to the side and was curious.  When the ferry arrived, a large group of jr high and high school age children walked off the ferry.  It struck me that kids that fuss about having to walk up the street to catch a bus don't have a clue.  Morning and after school, these kids have a 30 minute ferry ride each way.  Definitely a different lifestyle.

Loading began around 0845 for the trip across.  It was a fairly short drive to the refuge once I disembarked.  Unfortunately, most of the areas were blocked off to protect and provide quiet for the migratory waterfowl.  I was very disappointed.  A couple of hawks, juvenile White-faced Ibis, Great Blue's and Egrets were around.  Plenty of Coots and Grebes but not much else.  I did get a couple of good shots of an Egret that had just caught a fish.

I stopped and spoke with another couple in the refuge that lived on the Virgina side.  I asked was this it?  There was one other area with an observation deck so I headed there.  NOTHING!  Unfortunately, the best areas that had high density ducks were in the cannals along the road and there simply was no where to pull over.  Drivers were flying down the road so you could not even slow down to look.  So, this is one place I will not be going back.  Next ferry was leaving at 1200 and I headed back to catch it.

On the way home, I stopped in Edenton, NC for a bite to eat.  I had heard the riverfront area was quite charming so I decided to go the extra couple of blocks since I was there.  If you can't enjoy the journey, why go?  Some beautiful old homes fixed up nicely and well cared for.  I wished I had more time to look around longer.  A mixture of colonial and victorian styles.  Down along the riverfront at the park, I noticed a building sitting on movers.  When comparing early built structures and modern buildings, there is without a doubt a charm that exists in the earlier buildings that is sorely lacking in the stip mall (lack of) architecture of today.  There is just something very comforting, warm and inviting about a grand old victorian home with gingerbread fretwork versus the cookie cutter developments that are springing up everywhere today.

I walked over to a couple sitting in the park and started talking with them about the building.  This is the Roanoke River Lighthouse.  Constructed in 1886 by the US Lighthouse Service, it served as a navigational beacon on the Albemarle Sound.  It marked the entrance to the Roanoke River that was the main commercial passageway to the upstream towns of Plymouth and Williamston.  The lighthouse remained in service until 1941 when it was decommissioned by the Coast Guard.  In 1955, it was purchased by Mr. Emmett Wiggins and moved to Edenton.  The Edenton Historical Commission later purchased and has done an outstanding restoration of the building.  Of more that 20 lighthouses that marked the rivers and sounds of the Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds, it is the last example of a square sided, screw-piled lighthouse. More info here Edenton Historical Commission

When I asked why it was still up on the movers....government red tape on allowing it to be placed in the new location.  It seems like permits have hopefully been approved but with the government, who knows.  A private group of folks preserve a piece of history, then the government wants to step in. 

Moving on, I thought with MacKay checked off the list, I had visited all of the NWR's in the NE portion of the State.  Dang, the lighthouse triggered the memory of another then I rode by it on the way home.  That is the Roanoke River NWR.  The best way to see this is in a canoe so I will have to find a canoing partner for a spring visit.  From the FWS brochure " At least 219 birds including 88 breeding species have been identified on or near the Refuge. The Roanoke River floodplain is believed to support the highest density of nesting birds, especially songbirds, anywhere in North Carolina."

Friday, December 16, 2011

More From Day 2 - Mattamuskeet

I got an early start in the morning heading to Mattamuskeet.  When I departed the outer banks, none of the fast food chain places were open for breakfast.  I finally passed a little gas station/grill combo place and since the parking lot was filled with trucks and most pulling boats, I figured if the local's come, it is okay.  I was very aware of eyes watching as a stranger had arrived, female to boot.  I found a table, ordered and pulled out my road map.  Before long, one gentleman asked where I was headed.  That broke the ice.  I replied to the refuge but was deciding on the next leg of of my trip.

We were soon discussing the lack of waterfowl this year.  Consensus is that with all the warm weather, there simply has not been the cold weather up north to drive the birds further south.  If you are looking for good intel on what is where, the locals and hunters in particular are an excellent source.  By day 3....I should have listened to them.  Lesson learned.

When I first arrived at the refuge, the deer had just come out of the marsh.  I don't think they knew whether to go back in or run along the grass.  I pulled the car over, cut it off  and watched.  Within just a few minutes they went back to grazing on the grass paying no attention to me.

The doe started coming closer and closer to the car.  I tried to be very still not to spook her.  As she was getting fairly close, one of the little deer did the foot stomp and snort warning.  It was so cute I just had to laugh.  I guess finally the doe had sufficiently checked me out and she turned and walked on.

The chatter of the Kingfisher's could be heard everywhere as they went about diving, eating and returning to watching for the next tasty treat.

I saw a group of Widgeon's and using the brush as cover attempted to ease up enough to try and get a decent shot.  I failed miserably on my first trip.  They are very spooky ducks.  I was able to get one semi-decent shot as they swam away.  I guess I need a little more practice on my stealth techniques.

Still only a few Northern Pintails.  One of the most curious things I watched was a Northern Harrier that kept flying over the lake.  It would swoop down into the marsh grasses and sometimes glide over the water.  Where ever it was, there were  always either crows or Red-Winged Blackbirds, not sure which,  chasing it.

The Cormorants were numerous.  Almost every tree out in the lake had one or more sitting in or around the bottom knees.

One of the things that tickled me the most was a Loon that came up while I was in the photo blind.  It stayed and stayed.  I stepped out a couple of times and it never showed any fear and would look me right in the eye.  If only everything were that cooperative.

Vacation Day 2 - Wednesday - Those Rowdy Eagle Youngsters

Eagle #1 peacefully watching surroundings.
After a non-restful night, I awoke early and decided I would go home with a stop by Mattamuskeet.  I took a scenic back route which I must go back down sometime during full daylight.  The peaceful scenic drive lifted my spirits and I will definitely revisit that route in the spring.

1st eagle turns to face incoming eagle
This post will primarily be on the young eagles.  I still have hundreds of photos to sort through and will post those on a separate post.

 Being a weekday morning, there were very few visitors on the refuge when I arrived.  I headed back to the area where there is a photo blind by the water.  I had not pulled far down the road when I saw one of the young eagles fly in.  I cut the car off and sat and watched.   Was I in for a show.  A game of "King of the Tree" followed.  The first one flew in and landed in a tree just checking out the surroundings.

 This play attack behavior went on for about 10 minutes.  Both eventually settled down in the same tree and sat for some time.

2nd eagle assumes attack posture.

Fake out play attack.

2nd eagle flies off, circles and repeats incoming attack

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Outer Banks Crawl Day 1 - Tuesday

Day 1 of vacation did not go as hoped. I guess that saying of "Best laid plans..." was in full effect.  The clouds hung around longer than expected so the morning was non-eventful.  My first stop was at the Alligator River NWR.  Where are all the ducks, swans and snow geese?  Oh well.

The saving grace was watching a Northern Harrier working the field.  What a shame the lighting was not better.  I can say though they are truely magnificent fliers.  This one particular bird was very adept at riding the wind currents.  It had that hang time maneuver down pat.  There were more N. Harriers around in the area than I think I have ever seen there.

On to Pea Island NWR.  Major disappointment this year.  When I arrived,  I was so surprised that the area covered with water last year was now dry.  I went into the visitor center to talk with them to see what was going on.  The volunteer there was new at that location and all she could say was water had been pumped out.  I am very surprised as this time of year it is a major roosting area for the migrating Tundra Swan and Snow Geese.  It is considered an environmentally sensitive area so I was totally shocked.  Had I known, I would not have wasted my time or gas.  I know that back in the summer when Hurrican Irene hit, the ocean washed out Hwy 12 and cut through to the sound side.  Possibly water was being pumped out so excess sand could be remove?   I just don't know.

On my way back to Nags Head, I decided to pull through the Bodie Island Lighthouse.  Last year it was still undergoing renovation and had scaffolding still around the lighthouse.  It looks very nice now.  I had watched a program on PBS showing all the required repairs on the lighthouse and it was a major undertaking.   One thing for sure, we love our  lighthouses here in NC!

Feeling disheartened by the lack of waterfowl, the high winds and cool temps, I attempted to make the best of the remaining part of the day.  Since I had not visited the somewhat new Wright Brothers Memorial that opened a couple of years ago, now seemed like a good time.   

Tired and a bit frustrated, I went on to the motel.  Late in the afternoon, several guys came by kite surfing.  Looked like fun and they were moving pretty quickly but I would say definitely a summer sport.  They all had on wet suits but I feel sure they were still cold.  Time for a good nights rest and hopes for a better 2nd day.  A revision of plans for day two shows promise.

I have so many photo's to go through tonight / tomorrow for day two that proved to be outstanding.  Tonight however I am extremely tired and the dog is demanding some "love me" time.

Day two, I get down to some serious birding time.  WIll post more tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Trailcam Pics

I have had not had any time last week or this week for time out.  When Friday rolls around, it will be 12 days straight and 130 hours of work.  Feeling out of touch with what is going on around me, I have been putting out the trail camera the last couple of nights.  It keeps me connected with what is going on in the natural world right in my own yard.

Up until the weather front that is coming through right now, nights this week have been fairly warm.  I would sit out on the screened porch and hear the mystery noises rustling the leaves and wonder what it / they were.  So here is what has been out.

The deer have been active over the last two weeks.  With most of the green foliage now gone, they are searching for food.  They have found the big pile of acrons I have been dumping in one spot and are hitting it regularly.

Their activity has aroused the interest of other woods creatures.  The raccoons I battle with that want to rob the bird feeders wandered into the camera view.  The fox also walked through on it's nightly rounds.

 The most curious shot is an unknown feline.  Unfortunately, the head shot is blurry but a couple of body shots.  I find the markings very interesting and they make me think this is not a domestic feline.  I have placed the camera back out tonight hoping for another visit to get some better views of the head.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Love Among the Eagles