Saturday, January 29, 2011

Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow

Continuing my quest to find as many species of sparrows as possible in North Carolina, my friend and I headed down to around the Wilmington area this morning. After what seems like the longest, coldest winter we have had in some time, a day of expected 60 deg weather was too much to pass up to enjoy being outside.

Last August I attempted the same trail we went on today on one of the 95 deg days and high humidity which was very stupid on my part. Half way through the trail, between the heat and mosquitoes, enough was enough. Today, very pleasant. While the numbers of birds were not there, you could enjoy the walk without insects driving you nuts.

Yellow-Rumped Warblers and Robins eating berries from the Yaupon and Cedar trees were by far the greatest number of birds present. Several times we did spot the Northern Harrier flying searching for prey. Never came close enough for a good shot.

Finally got a good shot of one of the Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow. Of conservation concern they are considered vulnerable. Their range is limited to the coastal plains of U.S. east coast and gulf coast states.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Marsh Life and the Swamp Dog Ghost

Having the day off work, I headed out early this morning. I wanted to make the most of the day before the rain moved in. A little sunshine early then clouds moved in. No rain so that was okay. Doesn't make for pretty pictures but you can't have everything.

Spent a lot of time in the marsh area seeing what was out an about. In the brown sameness of the winter landscape, there is still beauty to be found.

Deer, foxes, Swamp Sparrow, Song Sparrow. In the back area of the main pond that leads to the marsh area, there were some Mallards swimming. As I watched and listened to them for a while, my eyes began to play tricks on me. Must have been some of that elusive swamp gas mixed in with the morning fog. I got such a chuckle out of it, I thought I would share what I have termed the "Swamp Dog Ghost".

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Falconry Meet

Today I had the privilege of attending a local falconry meet. A long time fascination with the sport but had never had the opportunity of getting out in the woods with the birds to watch them hunt. All I can say is WOW! What a unique experience. All the members of the guild present that were flying birds were very gracious and patient in indulging observers in many questions and shared a wealth of knowledge and experience with us.

All the handlers seemed to care deeply about the birds and their welfare. The birds seemed to have enjoyed the hunt as well as the participants.

It was a great day weather wise. The bitter cold had eased off and while still cool (but is is winter), felt good as you were running through the woods.

There were people of all ages and several types of birds. Red-tailed hawks, a Peregrine Falcon, Merlin, 2 Kestrels and several Harris Hawks. What a treat to see them up close. I think I enjoyed the Harris Hawks the most. One gentleman flew his solo first. It was a young hawk and still in training but did pretty well.

We had just come back up out of the woods and were getting ready to depart for lunch when a rabbit was spotted. The hawks were just flying about waiting to be loaded up when one of the falconers decided to let his hawks attempt to make the catch. It was not but a split second before the deed was done. The hawk absolutely did want to let go of the catch.
After lunch, we went to another location. One of the gentleman flew his Red-tailed hawk first. After it made a catch, he took it back and brought out his two Harris Hawks. Another gentleman also had two and what a thrill to see all four hunting together. It was amazing to watch how they worked together as a team to make a catch.
Would love to go back tomorrow but since rain is coming in Monday, I need to spend some
one on one time with Ali and take her for a long walk in the woods and give her the opportunity for some full out run time.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Finch and Bath Day

Awoke to a layer of ice on everything and after a short walk out to the end of the driveway to check the road, way. Too many reports of slide off's and accidents to risk getting on the road. I figured I probably could not even make it up the hill and the end of the road so why try.

At first light I could already hear birds outside at the feeders. I went out to spread some seed on the ground to accomodate the numbers and knock some ice off the nearby rest where I also put some suet.

Not sure where the masses of finches arrived from but I have enjoyed them today. The usual visitors were there today also. One thing that did amaze me today was that despite the very cold temperatures, the water feature/bath was extremely popular.

Back in the summer I did away with the ornamental fish pond and did a disappearing fountain. The main feature is a rock I secured from my parent land many years ago. The rock has a curved indention holding the perfect amount of water for bathing and a hole in the center that was drilled when a local lake was being made and a rock bed was dynamited. I was able to run the tube through the hole and fill the opening with of all things a plastic bag so the water holds up top.

A benefit I did not consider at the time is with the water being below ground level and covered with a grate topped with river rocks, the water is not freezing like the bird baths. It has proved to be a constant draw for the birds.

At one point today, while looking at the finches on the rail of the deck, I noticed that two of the male finches looked a little different. By the time it hit me that the different one was a Purple Finch versus a House Finch, it flew. Shortly after, the female arrived. It caught my attention because at the same time there was a female house finch. The other bird was larger and had a white band above and below the eye. Seeing them side by side I was quite surprised by the difference in size.

I had a running battle with the squirrels trying to climb the suet feeder. I must have knocked on the window dozens of time and of course everytime I would say"That darn squirrel", Ali would take off flying out the dog door to go find the squirrel. For sure she recognizes the word. I finally remembered I had some deer corn left and put some out which seemed to satisfy them.

After Ali slipping and falling flying out the door, I finally put the cover over the dog door so if I slipped and said the "S" word. I was really afraid she was going to hurt herself flying out on the ice.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Year End Birding Trip

The last two days have been driving intensive but well worth it. Our trip started early Thursday morning and after a while of driving and encountering some black ice conditions, stopped for some breakfast until it was a little lighter outside and I could see upcoming road conditions a little better.

Our first stop was back at Mattamuskeet. Not the best weather day. Skies went from a bright blue to a milky white most of the day and a light breeze. After several successive days of cold a thin layer of ice cover most of the water close to land. Not near as much waterfowl present as our first trip.

I did manage to get a couple of nice shots that I was happy with. An immature eagle came in and sat for a while before swooping down after something. Just as we had stopped for a little snack to refuel, four Ibis came flying in and rested in a couple of tree tops. We watched a Great Blue trying to walk on the ice slipping and sliding. In retospect, had our trip itinerary been reversed, we probably would have seen much more as Saturday proved to be an absolutely beautiful day.

After departing Mattamuskeet, we headed over to the outer banks in no big hurry. We did a brief drive through at Aligator River NWR hoping to possibly catch some mammal activity but not much out and the roads were very muddy from the recent snow so we continued on wanting to arrive at the motel before dark. Oh well, hope for a bear one of the red wolves another day.

And where else would birders stay? We sort of laughed that of all places we would pick something with a bird name. Nothing fancy but clean with a great view of the ocean and close to our next day destination.

After a restless night of non-sleep, we awoke early to catch the last morning of the year sunrise. All signs pointed to a beautiful day ahead. Where else better to be on the last sunrise for the year? Fishing boats were headed out early at the crack of dawn and a long stream of boats came by.

Our first stop was a the salt flats on the Pea Island NWR. Missed shots of two Peregrin Falcons flying by. Blew out as I had been shooting something in a darker area. Darn! My second missed shot was when a little red raccoon popped up. It surprised me so much all I could do was just watch it. As we were walking back to the parking area, huge waves of Snow Geese came flying over. They were beautiful and amazing to watch as they rose and lowered in the sky trying to find that perfect place to land on the water.

As we were walking back we noticed all of these little birds running around on the ground. Unfortunately, we were shooting in to the sun at that point and I could never get a really good shot despite many efforts. Last night as I was trying to identify them I realized they were American Pipits. My first.

Another thrill was a family of four river otters that were swimming about. They swam directly over to a group of snow geese and caused such a stir the geese all got up and flew. It was almost like that were mischevious kids getting something sitrred up.

We proceeded on down to the the North Pond area of the refuge. Much excitement from all who were there over an American Bittern that was putting on quite a show. You couldn't help but slightly giggle as it would hunch down and do a little rear end wiggle right before it would plunge in after a fish.

As we walked on down the trail, off in one of the marshy areas we could see a raccoon really working at digging. Never got a really good clear shot of it just one peaking through the rushes.

Lots of what I guess are Rusty Blackbirds. This was also a first for me so even though I suppose they are common, I was excited to see one.

By this point we were both famished and proceeded down to Rodanthe. We found a local restuarant and had a wonderful fish basket. Not sure if it was really as good as we thought or whether we were just hungry but it hit the spot.

And even though this is my home state, I acted like a typical tourist and went to find the house where "Nights in Rodanthe" was filmed. Several years ago after one of the big hurricanes, it was questionable as to whether the house would survive. After a serious wash of the beaches, the house was condemed for occupancy. Finally being moved, it was restored by a couple and is now an inn.

As we were headed home, we saw a sign for Pettigrew State Park. We decided on a quick detour and just rode down to see what it was like. Lake Phelps is there and I believe it is suppose to be the largest natural lake in North Carolina. I will have to remember to go back next fall. I can imagine the fall colors reflecting on the lake would be beautiful. Even in the dullness of winter, the beauty of the cypress trees reflecting in the water was pretty. Along the dock, water dripping and freezing made for nice reflections in the water.