Eager for any excuse to head to the coast, I participated in the first annual Dare County Rarity Roundup this year. While no literal rarities were rounded up, there were a lot of good birds, found by a lot of good birders.
Day 1: The Roundup
Saturday was the day of the roundup. Three experienced piedmont-based birders and myself scoured our assigned territory, which included Rodanthe, Waves, Salvo, Avon, and the stretches of Cape Hatteras National Seashore in between.
We started off near dawn at a very accommodating local birder’s backyard in Waves (“backyard” is a bit of an understatement for this amazing soundside property). Best birds there included a female Painted Bunting at the birdfeeders (state bird), a Sora heard calling, Marsh Wren, Nelson’s Sparrow, Seaside Sparrow, and about 40 other species (we dipped on the Clay-colored Sparrow seen there recently). After that, we spent the rest of the morning checking various small freshwater ponds, soundside views, and more heavily vegetated areas. Best birds included two continuing Common Gallinules, a late Yellow-billed Cucoo, a mystery finch, lots of Red-breasted Nuthatches, a couple White-winged Scoters, and a first winter male Eurasian Wigeon at Canadian Hole (best bird of the day).
After a nice lunch in Buxton, we spent the afternoon exploring the ocean side of the island. The beach and ocean held the expected mix of scoters (hundreds) gannets (hundreds/thousands), gulls (all 6 expected species), a few loons, a few terns, and a few shorebirds. The best birds seen from the Avon Pier were undoubtedly a pair of first winter male Commen Eiders, but even these were eclipsed by a relatively cooperative Humpback Whale that surfaced numerous times. We also had some good birds on the roadside power poles, including Merlin, Bald Eagle, and Sharp-shinned Hawk within a couple miles of each other.
Our group finished the day with a little over 80 species, which seemed respectable enough for mid-November, given the somewhat limited habitat available in our territory. Adding our observations to those in other groups covering different territories in Dare County, the overall Roundup count for the day was a whopping 175 species (if I remember correctly)!
Day 2: The Cleanup
Freed from the fetters of our prescribed territory, my group (plus a couple of additional top-notch piedmont birders) spent Sunday visiting some of the more productive sites in the area. The Bodie Island lighthouse pond held a lot of rails (heard only), some ducks we didn’t see yesterday, a bunch of Marsh Wrens, at least one Sedge Wren (frustratingly uncooperative, i.e., heard only), and an American Pipit. Next, a continuing Long-tailed Duck at the Oregon Inlet fishing center offered the closest views I’ll probably ever get! Then, we were generously shuttled down to the flats at the south end of Bodie Island (the north side of Oregon Inlet) to see a Hudsonian Godwit (lifer) that had been (re)found that morning by our esteemed Roundup co-organizer. Other notable birds there included a Parasitic Jaeger, a Sandwich Tern, another heard-only Sedge Wren, and a couple of Nelson’s Sparrows. After this, we continued our journey south to Pea Island. Best birds included 13 duck species, over 100 American Avocet, and a perched Peregrine Falcon (falcon #3 for the trip!).
After lunch, we left the OBX and headed to the mainland, first stopping at River Road (Alligator River NWR) to pick up the American Golden-Plover found the day before, along with some other shorebirds, ducks, swallows, and a pipit. Then, we traded Dare County for Washington, visiting the west side of Lake Phelps/ Pocosin Lakes NWR (specifically, Cypress Point and the questionably named Shore Dr. Sparrow Fields). Best birds there included a good sized group of Canvasback, a Fox Sparrow, and two Eastern Screech-Owls. A huge group of Wild Turkeys (>50) were spotted in a cotton field near the refuge as we headed towards our last stop: the Beasley Road pond area. I was driving the second car of our caravan, and arrived just in time to see a Cackling Goose (lifer) flying off into the distance with a flock of Canada Geese. The first car in the caravan had arrived a few minutes earlier and its lucky occupants were able to confirm the ID before the bird took flight. Needless to say, this was a pretty underwhelming life bird, and I toyed with whether I should or shouldn’t “count” it. I went with the former, for reasons I won’t bore you with here. One consolation at the pond was a continuing Greater White-fronted Goose (state bird), which stayed on the ground long enough for me to get great looks at.
This last goose marked species #110 for me for the day (certainly one of my most productive days!), and #134 for the short two-day trip (certainly one of my most productive two-day trips!). Overall, aided by birders far more experienced than myself, I managed to pick up 2 lifers (new total: 339), 5 new state birds (new total: 285), and 16 new Dare County birds (new total: 181).