Sunday, May 6, 2012

Birding North Carolina's Crystal Coast

This is the first in a series of posts about my recent tour of North Carolina's Crystal Coast (map). I have some great things to share including the ecotourism opportunities in the region and the wonderful food and accommodations you might enjoy while you're there.

Its hard to decide where to start, so why don't I jump right in by sharing the 10 life birds I was fortunate to observe in the day and a half of birding with Jess Hawkins (more about Jess soon!), Jill Staake from Birds and Blooms along with her husband Ryan.

1. Sandwich Tern
Being an intermountain west guy, I know a couple of terns, but the variety of terns on the coast kept me guessing and wondering. Thankfully the camera was able to catch a couple that we would later identify while reviewing the images like this Sandwich Tern! That black bill with yellow tip is the identification clincher.

2. Least Tern
These exciting little terns were regulars about everywhere we went along the coast. They were a lot of fun to watch diving and flying overhead. Though the light wasn't great, I was able to sneak a bit closer to this little guy resting on the dock pier.

3. Short-billed Dowitcher - no photos, but we observed a decent sized flock probing along the shore line and then later in flight. I can vouch that though similar, they are different from the Long-billed Dowitchers I am used to seeing.

4. Whimbrel
 I found Whimbrels to be very much like Long-billed Curlews in both behavior and appearance. The bill is not quite as long and the head pattern is important for identification of Whimbrels. We actually saw many Whimbrels as we cruised the small islands of this southern portion of the Outer Banks.
Two Whimbrels and two Willets in flight.
 5. Wilson's Plover
On Shackleford Island, we saw a dozen or so Wilson's Plovers. Similar in appearance to Killdeer, the single black band, face pattern, bill size and shape, and vocalizations make it an easy species to learn and differentiate.

6. Clapper Rail - heard, but not seen. Vocalizations confirmed using the birding apps on my iPhone. Not called originally.

7. Tricolored Heron
My first Tricolored Heron was along the sandy beach and seen from the boat. The following day, we hiked in the woods near the aquarium and found a pond/creek where there were four Tricolored Herons and this guy in full breeding plumage. Awesome! It was funny watching them get their feet stuck in the mud and then have to flap their wings to extract their legs.

8. Northern Gannet
Right outside our beach house one morning there was a feeding frenzy going on including dolphins, Brown Pelicans, and Northern Gannets. It was so cool to watch them dive and I saw birds in various stages of life-cycle molt. They were too far out for my 150mm lens, but still good enough for documenting another life bird.

9. Great Crested Flycatcher
This image was borrowed from BiF Contributor Scott Simmons. Check out his awesome blog!
In an effort to add some more life birds in the last half-hour of our guided birding tour with Jess Hawkins, Jess took us to his own neighborhood patch and hotspot where I added two life birds including the Great Crested Flycatcher. To me, it is a lot like an Ash-throated Flycatcher but with a lot more color on the belly.

10. Red-headed Woodpecker - no pictures as they were too far away, but we clearly saw and heard two Red-headed Woodpeckers at the end of the street of Jess's neighborhood.


  1. Robert, it sounds like a fantastic trip! The coast of North carolina is beautiful. Thanks for sharing these images and your journey!

  2. What a wonderful birding trip!
    You really had some great sightings!

  3. It was a great trip ! Very well captured photos.
    I haven't sighted any of these birds. Thank you very much for such a great post.
    Waiting for more posts from you . . .

  4. Robert, I did not know you were on the east coast! How awesome! So...where does your life list stand now? You were lucky to see the Wilson's plover, a species I do not have on my life list, though we searched for it on Plum Island and at South Beach in Chatham last year!

  5. That's quite a nice list of life birds. Congratulations, Robert! So many beautiful sightings.