The days have been cool and grey this past week and Saturday was no exception, so as I approached the Coues Trail at Fort Macon, I was not optimistic about photographing birds or even seeing much action. At 50 degrees, it felt downright cold! But there were quite a few birds around including the early arrival of the Painted Bunting which I only saw around the feeders. I was intrigued by a bathing Boat-tailed Grackle and a Solitary Sandpiper. Saw my first White-breasted nuthatch there and both of our red head woodpeckers. A treat was a large Swamp Rabbit.feeding on fresh growth around the pond, probably out during the day because it was so cloudy and dark. Met a fellow birder around the pond and he had a list of 29 species he had seen that morning--and trying to get number 30. So, as usual, the birding was good--and lunch later at the Sanitary Restaurant in Morehead City was super!! Hope you enjoy the pics below.
In early January, a good friend who is possibly the most knowledgable birder in eastern North Carolina, offered to take me to a recently freshly plowed area of his hunt club property to see some Horned Larks that had been foraging in the area. Always looking for the chance to photograph a “new” species, I readily accepted. I had seen these birds previously in our area, but had never been able to get a picture of them, so I was excited for the opportunity. We went out to the area on a beautiful day and in less than five minutes were looking at a pair 30 yards away from us feeding on open, freshly plowed land. I was able to get a dozen or so great shots and was amazed at our good luck. At home later, I was frustrated at my carelessness and disappointed that I had ruined the pictures!! Somehow, a setting on my camera had been inadvertently changed, leaving only a series of blurred Larks!
My friend suggested that I go back and I did a few days later and as luck had it , they were nowhere to be seen. i tried again a few days later, but no luck. We then had several snows and periods of rainy weather so I did not return. In early April, my friend asked if I had ever gotten a picture, and told me he was seeing them frequently in the same area. I went back, and in only a few minutes, there they were, running up and down the now mounded rows. After carefully checking my camera settings, I took a large number of shots using my 400mm f2.8 lens and Canon 7D Mark II camera. These turned out very well!
I don’t think the Horned Lark is a bird that many of us have seen and identified as such, even though it is abundant, because we likely ID it as some sort of sparrow. It is larger than a savannah sparrow, but smaller than an Eastern Meadowlark. Its coloration is similar to a Killdeer, but it is about half that bird’s size. The Lark has a neat yellow face with a curving black stripe from front to back of the head, ending on each backside with small “horns”, which are tufts of black feathers. There is a back patch on the chest. Back coloration is light brown to rusty.
They range nation wide, and are found year round in our area, but are more plentiful in winter. They are very social , forming large flocks outside breeding season. Female builds nest and performs courting displays to attract the male. Nests made of grass in fields with short growth. They will have 2-5 eggs with a 12 day incubation, and will fledge in 10 days. They feed on seeds and small insects.
Look for them in eastern N.C. in freshly plowed fields in winter and early spring. The pics below were taken on April 9. There are a couple which show the “Horns"
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Early spring in eastern North Carolina can be a difficult time to do any serious wildlife viewing. The weather is all over the place. In the past three weeks, most days have been rainy or snowy, interspersed with a few clear days. Temps have ranged from the low 20s to a high of 80. You have to look closely to see the early signs that the spring season and all its promise of new life is really here. I have visited The Field several time in the past few days looking for those signs. The birds are still pretty much our usual winter residents, but if you look closely, you will see that they are sporting their breeding colors. The "Jake" turkeys are pumped up and strutting, showing their amorous intentions to the wary hens. a few quail can be seen peeking out of the brown weeds of winter. The Fox squirrels and o'possums are stirring more looking for a spring snack. And the trees are budding and flowering --- a great time for wildlife and us--can't wait for the spring migration and summer residents--- All pictures below were taken in The Field since March 22.
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Jerry Lotterhos is a retired professor who resides in Greenville, N.C.