Bird Chasers #18 Hatteras

greater black backed gull

Cape Hatteras NC, 2.13-15 2015


My wife refuses to count that she has been to North Carolina, despite us taking a shuttle to an airport hotel in Charlotte years ago, I on the otherhand did so this is not my first trip to this state.

I met up with Jim, at the Minneapolis Airport, we were talked into this trip by our Canadian birder extraordinaire chum Thor, or as I like to describe him…the Canadian with the Norwegian name.  He would meet us in Hatteras so once we got there we’d have a day to bird our way to the Outer banks and then meet up.

Birding is a game of numbers.  This is NOT a big year for me but I keep track anyways.  I had 189 year birds before I took this trip.  686 lifers in the ABA area.  Exactly 700 birds in the United States, where Jim 93 for the year and his lifer list was 662.  Thor is in a different league, with numbers they don’t even have Roman Numerals for.

A synopsis of the trip:  100 species of birds for 72 hours of birding.  I added 49 for the year…..Jim and I each added 5 lifers and Jim added a lot as well to go to 141, adding 48.  So for counting it was a good trip but the weather….?  It snowed on 2/13, we looked for a Red-cockaded Woodpecker in sub-zero wind chill.  It was sooooo cold!

Red Cockaded Woodpecker

red-cockaded 7The photo sucked to a degree but as it was first light it was tough to get a non blurry photo with a heavy wind.  I haven’t seen one of these rare woodpeckers since 1994 (10,000 birds approximately live) I saw that bird in Florida and I really wanted to find a good spot to see them.  We had to arrive early and when they came out of their holes they made a racket, climbed the trees and then took off and despite another afternoon in the same forest looking at the marked trees we never saw them again.  Note to self–to find this bird in North Carolina in Winter arrive early!  We had stayed in Columbia at the Dalton House hotel which well needs a little work, but as you can hardly find the spot, lucky they had any business at all.  It was the most expensive place we stayed at.

Palmetto Pear tree Preserve (P3) is an odd spot.  It looks abandoned by its caretakers, the signs lead you to nowhere and if it wasn’t for some local intel which was intel from a NC birder, you couldn’t find the place.  The internet page is down.  No one returns phone calls.  Locals in Columbia didn’t think it was passable, to get in but we found it, found the marked trees and got the bird.

Looking for this woodpecker was not that cold in retrospect………going to Pea Island NWR on the Outer banks WAS cold, wind in your face cold.  We looked for Purple Sandpipers on the rock jetty and although Jim found one, I was already in the car my hands were stinging warming up so I had to get coaxed into walking out there to get it.

Purple Sandpiper

purple sandpiper1

My second viewing of this bird lifetime and later I told someone that it was so cold the tits were blue but we weren’t talking about the birds.   LOL.  I did see however at Pea Island NWR that they must have heard about my nude birding as nude birding is illegal as is using a kayak, but smoking, burying dead bodies, drowning, or panhandling isn’t…..go figure.  I guess they had heard about me before, as I was last on the list.  Truth be told, I don’t think I would be man enough to have gotten that purple sandpiper nude.  sign

Maybe these Greater and Lesser Black-backed Gulls, could have been gotten naked, but it would have been cold…Lesser is left bird 3 greaters on right with a ring-billed gull in between

lesser reat Blac backed gulls

.but I doubt it would have been tolerable even for a tough guy like me.  It was soooo cold.  We wondered if the Pelagic we had scheduled with Patterson’s in Hatteras would even go and if so would we be warm enough?

Jim and I practice Automobile Necro-ornithology, we count species hit by cars.  They cannot be counted if we hit them, btw.  We got some really good ones added 6 lifers in all but some really ….really good ones

American Bittern

dead bittern

Red-breasted Merganser

dead red-brestedThis one took out a windshield

glassBoneparte’s gull

dead boneLots of carnage on the road but how does one hit a bittern or a merganser that takes a windshield?

Since my Virginia Rail last October, it was good to add such hard to get roadkills but we were sad for the birds…..

In Rodanthe we stopped to look at an old ferry port and then it flew over……a Bridled tern….this was bird #687.  Jim saw it, I saw it, independently we both ID’d it, no one will believe us, but it was a dark winged tern, black bill, black legs average sized and nothing, nothing else looks like it.  They had 85 MPH winds here on Tuesday when the big Noreaster came by and it blew 45 all day … could a ocean tern end up here?   of course it could, but no picture and no credentials … one will believe us, but no other tern is so dark gray on its wings…….we are counting it and if the purists say no….well so be it.  They weren’t there.  If I was doing a big year and documenting this bird was needed, I might not count it, but for my personal list which no one really cares about I am almost certain this was a bridled tern so I will.

We met up with Thor, ate, went to bed, up at 5 and surprisingly we actually departed on time.  I dressed in my Swedish float suit, and it wasn’t that bad for a time out there at sea…maybe it was the scopolamine? ..but we saw birds.

The Stormy Petrel II


Not the biggest boat and no amenities, you bring your own food and drinks, but well again I say….we saw birds

Northern Gannet


#688  Razorbill (over a thousand)

razorbill2 razorbill best

#689  Manx Shearwater (12 of them)


#690 Dovkies (150 at least of them)


They are the smallest Alcid in the Atlantic “Little Auk” is their name in England.  Tiny things they had to watch out for Gulls taking them away and eating them

#691  Atlantic Puffin

atlantic puffin 1

It was a marvelous day and Jim saw a Little Gull (well 3 at least some say 5) and then later we also got one at the Hatteras Lighthouse….we saw one adult beautifully from the beach.  After the puffin, it got very wavy with big rollers coming in near Diamond Shoals Light, a strange structure no longer in use that looks like Torsbakken (the goat statue from Norse religion)


well until you get close enough to see it.  Odd with a light on what looks like an oil rig.  Not the place I would want to ride out a hurricane.  I do not know why the light is no longer in use.  It seems Cape Hatteras sticks out under water for many miles as Diamond Shoals and would not someone in the dark hit the bank?

We got back in a couple hours early thankfully, as it was getting scary out there.  Just getting out through the Hatteras Inlet was tough, we ran the boat aground once and it is like a maze trying to negotiate the path.

Nothing better to do…. we went to see the lighthouse at Hatteras.  It is taller then I am.

lighthouse olaf

then we celebrated a good day…..drinking a celebratory beer …….although as we didn’t see a Great Skua, Thor was a bit sad, but then again…that is birding


Skol!  Wind burned face and all.

It is a different crowd on Pelagics,  some had been out here 30 times, and everyone wanted the Skua, not just like Jim and I , who needed everything. I wont elaborate as you wont understand unless you’ve been on one.  They are in a different world maybe like us auto necro-ornithologists……  With Sunday’s trip cancelled after front #3 came in with 50-55 mph winds.  We left in some terrible weather it was 23 outside, there were sand drifts on the road, big ones that would hang up cars if you hit them wrong, blowing freezing ocean spray in feet on the roads and inland flooding as the sound had filled up.

Jim and I wanted a bird we missed and first we went to Brodie Island lighthouse and saw that……

brodie island light

we almost got blown off the boardwalk, and the Tundra swans looked frozen in the ice.  We walked the pines behind the fyre (Swedish), chased up a Barred owl and then spotted finally a brown-headed nuthatch… was a consolation bird….but a good one for us as we had a hard time finding one

brown headed nuthatch 1b

We went back to Palmetto Pear Preserve, on the way back to Raleigh adding 7 more species for the trip

Carolina Chickadee

carolina chickadee

Hermit thrush

hermit thrush

but no more woodpecker sightings…but we saw nuthatches all over…now.

In the end all we had was numbers.  We saw exactly 100 species on the weekend (Jim saw 102, I missed two somehow).  My year total is now 238, my lifer total is now 691 in the ABA region, we survived 23 F temperatures 50 mph winds, but who is counting?

Truth be told, I had never thought I would ever be so cold in of all places…North Carolina.  Thor even decided to bail out on Monday’s make up cruise which also might be cancelled due to the 4th gail that is coming in……got to love the Atlantic ocean!

It was fun…how fun?…let me think about it.  It is -5 in South Dakota but that is a ‘dry cold’ or so they say.  Raleigh-Durham is under a winter storm warning starting 2 hours after we leave so it is good to get out while the going is good.

Anchors away




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