Friday, July 10, 2009

Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge

Last Saturday, I had the opportunity to do some birding at Pea Island NWR in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Having never been to this property, I was not sure what to expect, but it turns out that is it one of the best National Wildlife Refuges I have ever been to. After crossing the bridge to the island, the birds were everywhere. White Ibis and Tricolored Herons lined the roads and Black-necked Stilts flew overhead.

One of the first birds we saw in the Visitor Center parking lot was a Red-Winged Blackbird that had some sort of pigment disorder. The area right below his beak was a pale yellow color instead of black (see below). It was a sight that neither my wife or I had ever seen before! Later, after birding a couple of the trails, we saw a photo of this guy in the Visitor Center. He must be a local!

Red-winged Blackbird

We walked the main trail that was on a levee between two wetland-type units of the refuge called North Pond and New Field Pond. This area contained an amazing number of birds. Both ponds had numerous Great and Snowy Egrets, Tricolored Herons, and White Ibis. There were also some Little Blue Herons and Willets. While watching the Willets, two Marbled Godwits flew in and landed with them.

As we continued up the trail, I noticed a group of terns up ahead. After getting closer, I realized that it was a highly diverse group containing pretty much all of the expected species as well as a Black Skimmer. The final count of terns was 12 Royal, 2 Least, 1 Gull-billed, 2 Common, 2 Forester’s, and 3 Sandwich. After walking the rest of the trail with little else other than mosquitoes, we headed in to check out the visitor center. They have a great setup with a fantastic shop. They also have huge windows overlooking North Pond with Zeiss spotting scopes set up for everyone to view the birds in the ponds.

After checking out the visitor center, we headed farther down the road to where Roseate Spoonbills had been reported earlier in the week. Although I did see them briefly, we could not pull over due to the heavy Saturday beach traffic. While heading out of the property, I had an American Avocet fly over the road and saw an American Oystercatcher feeding in one of the ponds.

Overall, it was a great day exploring a new place. I will be heading back to Pea Island for a few hours tomorrow morning before the 12 hour drive home!

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