With 4+ inches of snow here in East Carolina, there is not a way to get out on the roads--I would love to get to Mattamuskeet just to see the Lake in this snow, but---no way. So, today I spent a couple of hours checking out the birding in the backyard-- and sometimes the best is right in our own backyard!! I wanted to see how many species are using the feeders. The birds are really hungry and this is when our feeding efforts really are needed. I was quite amazed at the quantity of birds and pleased with the variety. Of course the Cardinals, the Baltimore Orioles , and the Bluebirds are the most colorful and they were numerous. The Orioles were really going after the grape jam, but were also grabbing the peanut butter balls. It was interesting that a mockingbird was guarding the grape jam and trying to keep the Orioles away from it. Most all the birds were going for the peanut butter. They are all pretty, but the snow makes them special! I enjoyed the couple of hours taking pics, until Beau, my black pug decided he wanted to cavort in the snow!! Then the birding was over!! --I hope you enjoy the pics below---
A rare weather event has coated our area with white. The snow sneaked in last night under cover to greet us this morning with its bitter cold backdrop. Brad Williams, one of the staff at River Park, called me early to say the Park was covered, so I decided to spend the morning trying to capture the impact on the critters there. I am not used to the white cover and the scene was actually quite erie even though very pretty. It was cold!!! Taking pictures with gloves on is a real challenge! I was cozy in my long-handles and big coat. I noticed that the birds did not seem to mind and were very active. I suppose they were hustling about to get enough food to keep from freezing tonight when the low temp will be in the teens! They were not quite as wary as usual and made getting some "snowbird" pics reasonably easy. There were many species present including Ring-neck gulls, bald eagles, red-tailed hawks, golden crowned kinglets, carolina chicadees, juncos, robins, titmouse, carolina wrens, white-throated sparrows, swamp sparrows, towhees, cardinals, Blue herons, Great Egrets, mallards, mergansers, crows, and more. I did get a pic of a hermit thrush, which I mis-identified as a Wood thrush until Howard Vainright corrected me!! It is the last picture below. The eagles and hawks were circling the ponds looking for an easy meal. There were about 500 gulls in the ponds. So there were plenty photo challenges. I tried to get pics showing the birds relative to the snow. It was a great way to spend the morning--I felt like I had visited a strange land---I hope the pics reflect the winter mood of the Park---
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I have been trying to get to the Chincoteague (pronounced shink o tee ) National Wildlife Refuge for several years, primarily because I have heard so much about the great birding there, but also because I wanted to review that Refuge on this website. My wife, Glyn and I visited last weekend-Thursday through Sunday(Jan. 9-12). We stayed at the Hampton Inn in the town of Chincoteague, and I recommend this Inn if you go. We arrived around 12:30PM on Thursday and were at a restaurant for lunch when we overheard someone say there is a rocket launch any minute. There is a huge NASA facility there on Wallops Island, which you cross going from the mainland to Chincoteague. So we went outside and in just a couple minutes, indeed a rocket was blasting its way upward toward the Space Station with a load of supplies for the astronauts. It was a beautiful bird indeed, and an unexpected surprise, but not the life bird this entry is about.
After we checked in to the hotel, we went to the Refuge. It was a nice sunny day and I wanted to check out the place and hopefully get a few pictures. We stopped by the visitor center to get info and see about recent bird sightings. I was glad to hear that the Snow Geese were plentiful and that thee was a good abundance of ducks. I was intrigued by a listing on the book about a few sightings this winter of the rarely seen (in this area) Snowy Owl. There had actually been a sighting that morning of one in a certain area of the beach. We drove around the Refuge, got some nice pics of the Assateaque ponies, a few ducks, and shorebirds. We reached the area where the owl had been spotted that morning. I decided, with encouragement from Glyn to take a walk up through the sand dunes to see if just by chance , I could get a glimpse. I had no notion that I would see one, because these sightings are extremely rare, but I looked. After about an hour, I retreated to the car, convinced the one seen had flown back to the Arctic where he belongs! We got some good pics and, tired and hungry after a long day in the car, retreated to the hotel and enjoyed a nice dinner at Bill's Restaurant in downtown Chincoteague. ( I recommend it if you visit). Then to bed--
The next two days were socked in, rainy and foggy, which greatly diminished my photo efforts. We decided to drive a little further north on Saturday to visit Ocean City, Maryland, see the sights, and have lunch. We were referred by locals to a neat little restaurant, The Shark, located on a canal with many fishing boats and docks. I recommend this as a must stop if you are in the area. The rain continued as we returned to our hotel and I was convinced my photo luck was busted since we were scheduled to leave by 11AM the last day.
My pessimism was relieved the next morning as the sky was clear and promised great light for pics. I drove to the back beach area where there are inlet ponds across the dunes from the ocean I had seen many snow geese, ducks, sandpipers, tundra swans, etc there on the first day and knew the sun would be to my back and I could get some nice pictures. Another photographer had the same idea and we talked birds and photography as we got some great shots. I was contented to be able to get the pics for the website. The other fellow, as it turned out, was a retired engineer from the NASA facility who had retired in the area. Our conversation turned to the Snowy Owl. He said there had been several sightings in the Refuge in the past few years, and 4 or 5 this year, but that he had never been lucky enough to spot one. An older couple walked up and asked, " Have you seen that Snowy Owl over there?" I'm sure both our mouths flew open and we asked in unison, "Where---?" The lady said , "right behind you", pointed to a small dune about 50 feet behind us, and, sure enough, there sat a nearly pure white, beautiful owl who seemed totally out of place on the beach. I am sure other visitors in the area wondered what was up with the two old geysers doing a jig in the sand dunes. We were facing into the sun, so had to walk around to the other side of the bird to get a good pic. Scared to death he would fly away, I doubt if either of us breathed---but we made it around as old Snowy sat there serenely with no worries. We actually took pics for 15 minutes as more and more lookers showed up. Perhaps if you are not a birder or photographer, you would not understand the absolute thrill of that moment. If you are a birder or
photographer, I don't need to say anymore-----enjoy the pictures below!!!
For a full introduction to the Chincoteague Wildlife Refuge, go to the main page on this website. Click Here.
SEE GALLERY BELOW--CLICK ON PIC TO ENLARGE
It is mid-winter at River Park North.On this final day of 2013, the trees are barren and the color gray dominates the landscape. But our winter residents are live and kicking. The ever present park sentinels, the Blue Herons, stand stoically in the cold water, patiently waiting for an unwary meal to swim close enough to pounce. Their very presence declares the continuous life rhythm of the place. They are truly the symbol, and the guardians of all that live and struggle to survive here. And even in winter, there are many! On Monday and Tuesday, I saw 35 different species of birds. What keeps me coming back to this great place is that year round, there is always an ever changing abundance of critters to see and to challenge my photo efforts. I did not get pictures of all 38 species, but each one I saw made my heart beat a little faster in hopes of getting a shot. And I am happy that they let me share a brief moment of their time.
There are also surprises here--a rare critter seldom or rarely seen, or a different coloration of one frequently seen, or one that just should not be in the area, etc, etc.In the past two days, a white goose has surprised us all and apparently has taken up residence with the flock of Canada Geese that hang out at the edge of the swamp at the back power lines. First seen by park staff last Friday, the bird has caused quite a stir among birders in our area. Someone placed a message online that a Ross's Goose was at the park and on New years Eve, there were a number of people trying to get a glimpse, including a fellow who had driven all the way up from Wilmington. And he and I were not disappointed--there he/she was! We were never closer than 100 yards, but it was close enough for binocular views and for me to get a few fair shots with my 400mm lens. I have to admit that I thought it was a Snow Goose, so I sent a few pictures to Howard Vainright, the most knowledgable birder I know and the recently retired River Park Director. He identified it definitely as a Ross's Goose and also said there had been one Ross Goose visit the park 10-15 years ago that stayed around for only one day. Howard said the primary differences between the 2 are that the Ross Goose is smaller and the bill of the Snow Goose appears to have a gap between upper and lower bills. The Sibley Guide says they are seen during migration in grasslands and grainfields in the eastern great plains and the Mississippi Valley, but are rare visitors to the Atlantic Coast area.This is truly a rare event for the park and a great Winter Surprise for us all!! If you haven't been out to see the bird, go today!!--A great way to start the New year!!
Below are some shots of the winter critters I saw on recent visits and the last few pics are the Ross's Goose. The Goose pics were taken with the bird at least 100 yards away, so are only fair at best---
HAPPY NEW YEAR AND GOOD BIRDING !!
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Jerry Lotterhos is a retired professor who resides in Greenville, N.C.