Saturday, June 19, 2010

Non-Pelagic Birding on the Outer Banks

After a 9 and 1/2 hour drive to North Carolina, I was tired, but ready to bird! So Uncle Jim and I started our birding weekend in his family room. Birding by Butt, North Carolina-style. Watching the crepe myrtle tree out the window and the pond with the drip faucet, we bagged ten species. Nothing unusual, but an auspicious start to the weekend. He also took me on a tour of his bat box, stuffed with sleeping brown bats. No screech owls in the nest box, but a colony of purple martins (Uncle Jim swears they are all lesbians - he runs a gay-friendly establishment). We made a quick run to the wastewater treatment plant next door and got ruddy ducks, bluebirds and some gulls and then to the quarry for rough-winged swallows.

Uncle Jim doing some birding from the couch.
a The next morning, we packed the car full of snacks, gear, luggage and a cooler full of ice and drinks and made our way to Lake Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge (stopping along the way wherever we thought there might be birds). It was quiet, muggy, hot and....quiet. Not much in the way of bird activity.

At one point, we got out to set up the scope to look at......a great egret. Yup. That's how desperate we were. As a matter of fact, Uncle Jim told me to make sure I put this picture on the blog telling everyone that we are setting up a scope to look at AN EGRET! But slowly and surely, we added a species here and a species there. Pretty soon we had an decent list. When we made it to the Outer Banks, we made sure to see the three lighthouses - each with a distinctive paint pattern and light flash pattern.

Ocracoake lighthouse. My favorite - short and stubby. I can relate.

The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. Relocated in 1999, about 1/2 mile inland to pretect it from the eroding beach.

The Bodie Island lighthouse (under scaffolding for sandblasting and re-painting that will take about 12 months).

Another view of the Ocracoake lighthouse

This is the British Cemetary on Ocracoake Island. During WW II, the HMS Bedfordshire, a British fishing trawler was hired by our Navy to escort a band of merchant ships to the Outer Banks. The Bedfordshire was sunk by a German U-boat and the bodies of 4 sailors washed ashore at Ocracoake and were buried by the locals. The tiny cemetary is now maintained by the US Coast Guard station at Ocracoake.

Standing by the barrier protecting the least tern (LIFER!) and black skimmer nesting sites.
It's hard to see in this photo (click on the photo to enlarge), but the bottom of the sign reads, "Illustration by Julie Zickefoose". Hey, I know her! I've birded New River Festival with her! Awesome!
While on Ocracoake, we noticed signs posted on a lot of lawns and in front of a lot of businesses with slogans like "We the People, not We the Plovers". It seems that nesting sites for piping plovers and least terns are being protected at the expense of tourists and residents being able to drive on and access some of the beaches. At a restaurant one night, the waitress asked us if we were birders (looking out the window through binoculars at a green heron may have given us away). When we said yes, she asked our opinion on the plover issue. We explained about the endangered plover and how our encroachment on it's habitat has been the cause of it's demise and she expressed dismay at not knowing that it was an endangered species. It seems that bit of information is not getting as much press as the loss of tourist dollars due to lack of beach access. However, with the local economy built on fishing and tourism, it's easy to see why residents look at protecting a few birds not nearly as important as their livelihoods. I have a feeling this issue isn't going away any time soon.
So it was an awesome birding trip- 81 species, including ten life birds, but more importantly, time with Uncle Jim.


Elizabeth said...

It's such a touchy issue, the limited beach access, but it's so incredibly important. Reading about how people helping on the Gulf run over nests even though they're supposed to be helping the birds kills me.

I'm glad one of their residents of the town you visited now knows that birders also contribute tourist money to the area. Why not help save the plovers and attract different types of tourists?

Beth said...

Hi Elizabeth and welcome to my blog. Thanks for commenting (great name, by the way!:) ). I whole-heartedly agree. We should be able to come to some happy medium that saves both the birds and the livelihoods of the residents.

Susan Gets Native said...

"Illustrations by Julie Zickefoose, Hadlyme, CT" Those are some old signs! How very cool!
And it does seem that the locals are only getting the news spun to them by people who don't give a hoot about the plovers. I like to remind locals that I am there in their town spending a lot of money there BECAUSE of the BIRDS.

Nate said...

It's a touchy subject to be sure, and one that birders in Carolina have to tread carefully on, especially since the OBX hosts some of the finest birding in the state and the east coast.

It's worth noting, however, that according to the NPS tourism is still going strong, people are still coming out to the islands, and that only 16 miles out of 72 are closed for the birds for the months they're nesting.

It's a shame that so many people are pitching a fit about it, but the best thing to do is wear your bins proudly and spend your money so that businesses know our birder money spends just as good as that from the small percentage of people that come out to drive on the beach. Sounds like you handled it exactly right!

Beth said...

Hello Nate and thanks for commenting on the blog. I imagine you are familiar with this issue since you are a North Carolinian. You are absolutely right about birder $$ being just as good as other tourism $$ and thanks for qualifying the actual mileage of beach access involved. That helps put it in a bit more perspective.
Happy Birding!

dguzman said...

I don't understand people who don't realize that we have to share Nature with nature. Sometimes that means going somewhere else, somewhere the birds (or wolves or bears or spotted owls) are not, so that we can ALL survive.