Category Archives: Birds

Waxwings

Nature never ceases to amaze me as it provides for the proliferation of life.

When birds migrate, their food supply is crucial. So it happens that this time of year as the female red cedar trees are draped with succulent berries, the cedar waxwings are moving through in large flocks. They can be seen resting on power lines or collectively swirling through the villages. Then they disappear into the trees. Eastern red cedars keep their foliage and are the prevalent green in our winter landscape. They are easy to spot.

My property has lots of indigenous vegetation, including cedars. The male cedar develops tiny cones and pollenates the females. Sometimes the trees are so laden with pollen, the branches practically smoke as the wind whips through them.

flock Flocks feed voraciously in the cedars around my house.

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Cedar Waxwings are handsome birds with colorful plumage, a rakish black mask and crest.

tail The tail is striking and looks as if it was dipped in yellow paint.

trailers The name of the bird comes from the waxy red secretions found on the tips of the secondary feathers.

down  Down the hatch. Cheers!

 

Getting to the Point

This has been a year of some personal loss and heartbreak, and I’m glad to have it behind me.

There is so much to be thankful for. The Summer and Autumn have been exceptionally gorgeous, especially in light of the severe storms the past few years.

December has almost turned into winter, and things on the island have been relatively quiet preceding the holidays. Yet a few weeks ago on the 5th, I had a first glimpse of a snowy owl. They are generally rare to the region, but not unheard of.

The first reported sighting was weeks prior, and Cape Point saw a deluge of photographers and naturalists looking for the wayward creature. My reaction was to wonder, at what point will the onlookers be harassing the bird or distressing it in some way. Certainly one’s discretion to minimize impact is important.

I felt guilty about venturing to the point with so many other folks, but when the bridge access to Hatteras Island was shut down for repairs, the onslaught of birders was also shut down considerably.

owl

With hardly any one else around, I was directed to a location where I saw a big white spot in the distance. Sure enough, there it was, perched on a piece of driftwood. I was able to get reasonably close with my 500 mm telephoto.

There was intermittent rain and light overcast, perfect for shooting a white bird in the wide open tundra of Cape Point.

Two weeks later I ventured out again with my long time friend Ray Matthews, and the owl was nowhere in sight. We surveyed the area with binoculars and discovered a falcon perched on a piece of wood. We advanced some, yet respectfully kept our distance.

falcon

It was a peregrine falcon, a frequent winter resident of Cape Point.

The Point is an amazing place. There’s always something interesting going on, and you never know what you’ll see or experience.

HAPPY NEW YEAR TO YOU ALL!

Terns Turning

Last week I had a chance to get a boat ride out on Pamlico Sound to a spoil island near Hatteras Inlet.
Spoil islands are man made from sand dredged to maintain the ferry channel between Hatteras and Ocracoke.
These “engineered” islands make good habitat for nesting terns and other colonial waterbirds, like Black Skimmers.
With the Summer season drawing to a close, nesting is done.


Lots of activity still prevails, and the mature birds continue to catch fish for growing juveniles.

The adults are loosing their handsome breeding appearance in favor of less dramatic winter plumage.


An adult sandwich tern, in non-breeding plumage, brings its catch in for a family member.


This island has a mix of Royal Terns and Sandwich Terns.
Adult Royal Terns have orange bills, and their juveniles have yellow bills.
Mature Sandwich Terns have black bills with yellow tips.
Their corresponding juvenile’s bills are dark and less distinctive.


Next Spring the tern population will renew the species once again,
looking their best in bright breeding plumage.

Wings Over Water

Another high season here at the beach is nearly over, and it’s been a hot one. When I was a kid, it was a sad time for me, watching Summer end and going back to school. But now I find myself excited with Autumn approaching. The vacationing crowds depart, leaving locals and off-season visitors to relish the best that the Outer Banks has to offer.

Fall has always been my favorite season here. It’s not only a time for great weather and scenery, it’s also a time of transition and the spectacle of bird migration. I’m amazed every time I watch massive flocks of shorebirds navigate and feed along the beaches. Some of them make journeys of thousands of miles, and the shorelines here are a critical step in that flight.

The Red Knot is a good example. They make one of the longest migrations of any bird, traveling from their Arctic breeding grounds in Summer to southern South America in Winter, a distance of over 9,000 miles. I’ve seen them feeding voraciously on sand fleas and other organisms in the surf zone.

Red Knots foraging on Ocracoke.

Some of the more common beach birds encountered are sanderlings, willets, black-bellied plovers with an occasional godwit or whimbrel. I’ve spent years watching them and trying to capture their images. I love how flocks can fly as a unit, wadded in tight packs. Their quick flight is erratic, so photographing them in the air is a challenge.

Marbled Godwit

Oystercatcher

Sanderlings

Willets

Brown Pelican

This November will mark another annual celebration of Wings Over Water, and I was asked once again, to lead one of the many field trips. I decided to concentrate on bird photography at the beach. Wednesday afternoon on November 10th, I’ll meet a small group of participants at my studio to get acquainted, view some work and discuss photography. Then we’ll hit the beach via 4-wheel drive to do some shooting. Scheduling this trip around a low tide, this will be a great opportunity to see shorebirds and seabirds in action. You never know what you’ll see. 





Unexpected Visitors

I love the nature and tranquility of my yard. The variety of birds that come throughout the year is amazing. Some fly to the feeder hanging in the garden. Others come to perch in the trees and bushes. Some do both. I’ve seen unusual birds like scarlet tanagers, baltimore orioles and bald eagles. I also get more usual sightings like cardinals, towhees and finches.

 A couple of weeks ago, my friend Steve dropped by. Like me, he’s an avid gardener, and sometimes we exchange seeds or ideas. As we were sitting next to one of my raised beds, discussing the merits of soil pH, there was a rustling in the pines. We looked up to see a feathery creature stumbling along the branches. It was a young great horned owl clutching a limb then jumping to another. We could hardly believe it. We all stared, checking out each other. The young bird was clicking it’s bill, and glaring at us with big yellow eyes. It was an amusing sight.

We looked for 20 minutes not realizing that we too were being scrutinized. Unbeknownst to us, there was an adult owl perched in an nearby tree, and it was watching us the whole time.   

The next few days I saw them again and again, and wondered why they would stay here. The juvenile, only a few months old, still had some downy plumage, yet was able to fly fairly well. A nest 30 feet up in a tree gave me a clue. Could it belong to them? It looked so small. 

I remembered the baby great horned owl that we rescued 2 years earlier, after it fell out of a nest. That youngster had been raised in a nest even smaller, but it worked. Well, sort of. I learned that great horned owls use nests built and vacated by other birds. Locally here on Hatteras, they nest in January or early February, long before most other birds are doing it.

This 4-week old owl had fallen onto soft pine straw from a nest 25 feet high.

Now I’ve been watching these raptors for 3 weeks. During the day they roost nearly motionless in the branches. They move around a little, depending on the comfort zone. At times they get harassed by mocking birds, but other than that you’d never even know they were there. They blend in beautifully. If my theory about their nest is right, then they’ve been in my own back yard for 3 months without me knowing it.

The adult gets a morning snooze.

The adult after a long rainy night of hunting.

The juvenile is just getting its feathery horns.

Natural born killers, they are perfectly designed for what they do. At dusk they get active. They’re silent, stealthy fliers. At night, I’ve seen them perched on power lines, rooftops, on my osprey platform in the marsh, or at my neighbor’s fish house looking for prey. Then the next morning, I find them nestled stoically in the same group of trees. It’ll be interesting to see how long this continues.