Snow Geese

Snow Geese
Wintering Snowgeese

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

A Busman's Holiday

(Saturday, February February 6, 2016)

I used one of my off days from volunteering at Alligator River and Pea Island National Wildlife Refuges to volunteer at an Oyster Feast put on by The North Carolina Coastal Federation.  My friend, John Thomas, first invited me to come down  to Hatteras and eat all the oysters I could hold for only $15.00, then mentioned I could even do it for free by volunteering to help out.  After I also negotiated that he would pick me up and drive me down, I went over the the Manteo office of the Federation and signed up.  I told the lady, I'd be happy to do anything, but would particularly like to do whatever John was doing.  She said we would probably be washing the oysters and to bring my boots.

Their banner was already up when we arrived

I packed up my boots, camera, water, and a snack and got in my morning walk before John picked me up near the Bodie Lighthouse.  I found that two more of John's friends had hitched rides to come help. We enjoyed about an hour of conversation on the way down Highway 12 to Hatteras.

When we got there, about eleven o'clock, people were just starting to figure out what needed to be done to be ready for the feast to start at two o'clock. People were unloading items needed for the party, including, tables, drinks, and ice.  I stood around a lot, because there were no oysters yet, then helped ice down drinks. This seemed to be a little excessive, since the day was going to be mostly cloudy with temperatures in the forties.

Decorating the table where the tickets would be collected and bracelets given to the participants

Bill, another of John's friends, waiting for a job

Fellow workers meeting up

I stood around some more,  then noticed some loons in the marina and went back to enjoy the birds. Then all of John's group were assigned the job of hauling oysters shells off after they lost their oysters. The Federation had made some very interesting shell collectors that consisted of big PVC pipes, about thirty inches long and eight inches across with holes  drilled in one end to add rope handles.  We stretched tubes of nylon netting that were tied at one end over them, with the tied end at the bottom.  When the pipes were full of shells, we just pulled them out of the netting and replaced it. Then we tied a knot into the top of the shell-filled tube and hauled it off to the waiting trailers.  John was one of two people who brought trailers so, after we finished cleaning up, he pulled it back to the headquarters and unloaded all his load to be stored until this summer when they will become part of a new oyster reef.

Finally decided these were both common loons

A volunteer sets out cups of lemons  - an oyster shell collector is beside her

As soon as the oyster soup was hot, I grabbed a cup to keep me fed and warm over the next few hours. Then it was time to monitor the many shell collectors and keep the shells moving to the trailers. We had a band that made eating, waiting, and working all more enjoyable.  And I had time to snatch some pictures.

People turning their tickets for bracelets

This group played for about three hours straight without a break

The drink and dessert table

I was able to climb some stairs to get pictures of the early crowd and the drink/dessert
and soup/cornbread tables

The drink and dessert dispensers

The crowd got bigger and tighter as they waited for the appearance of the stars of the show

Oyster shucking time

Not sure, but this woman might have gotten so excited over finding a little crab in with the oyster. These were considered great delicacies by some of the diners.  

This was serious business - the biggest affectionados brought their own oyster knifes

At our peak, we had more people waiting to eat oysters then we had oysters ready, but as the numbers started to die down, the volunteers had time to grab some oysters for themselves. Near the end of the day we still had ten bushels of oysters and when everyone was full, there were still about five bushels left. All the volunteers that wanted them got to take home oysters. John filled up two bins of oysters, then gave me a big pot full when I got home. I think I had about six dozen.  I had them for a late supper, then for breakfast, midmorning snack and afternoon snack before they were finally gone. John planned to shuck all of his and then make an oyster stew with them.

Bill doing his job

And me doing mine - after first putting new nylon tubes over the PVC pipes

This was a little less than half the ultimate oysters- and 5 or 6 bushels went home with volunteers

After the people were mostly gone, I helped clear the tables, wash them and haul them to the trailers for their trip back to Manteo.  I also gathered up the PVC tubes as soon as they were no longer needed.

It was a fun day, even though we had high winds, cool air, and clouds.

As I was writing this up, I received a message from the Nature Conservancy with this picture that helps explain the important work oyster reefs do in the ocean.  So this summer those oyster shells will go back to helping to produce fish and seafood. 

Sunday, February 7, 2016

A Visit to Mattamuskeet NWR

Soon after I got to North Carolina, I started visiting some of the other refuges in the area.  One of those is Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge.  It is about an hour and a half away and I wanted to be there as soon after sunrise as I could, so started off in the dark.Thus I was able to enjoy both the setting moon and the sunrise.

Moon setting at dawn

I was in a lucky place at sunrise

Mattamuskeet is the largest natural  lake in North Carolina and is in the kind of wetland known as Pocosin. This is a kind of acid, sandy, peaty soil that holds water most of the year. These lands, include grasses, trees, and shrubs, often growing together in an impenetrable fashion.  I put the map in to show that no streams drain into the lake.  Indian lore has it that was formed by a fire that burned the peaty soil for thirteen moons.

Of course, man has tried to drain the lake, three times in fact, before bowing to the superior forces of nature.  But one company build a huge pumping station, that looks a little like a lighthouse.  On my first trip, I saw this before I knew what it was and was enchanted at the beautiful view it made with a pond in front of it.  This old pumping station became a lodge and operated 1937 until 1974. Now the building is used by a research group.

The lake was originally over 110,000 acres but today is only 40,000 acres.  It is the winter home to thousands of waterfowl and is advertised to have 50,000 wintering tundra swans.  However, this year, we have only a fraction of the normal number of swans, and I've only been able to count and estimate less than one thousand.

The pumping station 

A great blue heron on a pipe in front of the pumping station

I found a little trail and enjoyed walking it in the morning light. I wasn't able to capture any birds with my camera but did see and hear lots of little woods birds like chickadees, woodpeckers and the ever present yellow-rumped warblers. I discovered this trail was mostly for fisherman and crabbers, although I was the only one using it.

View from the little trail in front of the pumping station

These roosting vultures, warming up in the early sun, seem to be guarding the refuge entrance

Ooo, it feels SO good to get warm.

There were few birds about the refuge roads but I did find a lot of birds on the lake, past where the boat launch is. However, they were too far away for pictures. (The refuge stays closed to boaters until March 3 to give the ducks and swans a safe place to feed during the winter. ) Several species of ducks and tundra swans were busily feeding.

A distant view of Canada geese among cypress 

A great white heron hunting from a tree

I also walked the trails there and explored the bird blind. Sadly, it had Phragmites growing completely around it, blocking any possible views.

These colors caught my eye along one of the trails. 

Trail to the bird blind
I also walked a little designated hiking trail. I saw several boxes for wood ducks and heard them go screeching off the little ponds in the area. I also heard and saw some woodpeckers, chickadees, and yellow-rumped warblers.

Hiking trail through a swamp - heard wood ducks screeching as they flew off

It was a very peaceful place in the morning light

I was disappointed in not seeing many birds. I did go back for the Christmas count and found more, but still not as many species or numbers of each species as we expected. However there is at least one Trumpeter swan there but I haven't gotten to see it yet.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

More International Birds

The second time I went to Sylvan Heights Bird Park, I ended up with over 1000 pictures. So I'm still going through them and enjoying them.  Here's a few more to share with you.

I took lots of pictures of the red-crested pochards.  They were very active and I loved their hairdos.

Red-crested pochard

These white-faced whistling ducks were probably pair bonding. But they were nibbling on each other.  Here they looked like they might be telling secrets too.

White-faced whistling ducks

I took this picture for the beautiful feather patterns

Normal wood-duck and a mutation known as a silver

Hooded Merganser - thanks Stewart 

Both times I was at the park, I took a lot of pictures of the Nenes. This is Hawaii's national bird and is almost extinct.  This one was really aggressive and would run at the fence, making it very hard to get a picture of him.  The other nenes would hang out in the shade against a fence and refused to pose.

The aggressive Nene goose from Hawaii in the snow

Head study of the Nene

White-faced whistling duck and Coscoroba swan 

Ringed teal

Cinnamon teal 

A mix of swimmers in the international pond


Indian Spot-billed Duck

The female Indian spot-billed duck

I was excited to see the falcated duck.  We had this as a wild duck at Colusa NWR in the Sacramento Valley of California and I spent a lot of time doing crow control and interpretation.   I think around 10,000 people came to see it and I heard it mated with an American widgeon and came back with his family the following winter.  It was probably an escapee.

Falcated Duck

 I'm still trying to figure out a lot of the species I photographed. Please leave me a comment if I'm wrong.

Meanwhile, our birds seem to be already starting to leave. We've had a couple of days with few swans and today we saw no American white pelicans or snow geese. I went to look for a common gallinule after work but didn't find it.

Sorry about missing my Sunday post. My computer was down for several days.

Click on the picture below for more great bird blogs from around the world. And you are invited to share your bird blogs on Wild Bird Wednesday.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Flamingos From All Over

I got interested in figuring out flamingo species after spending a couple of days watching two groups of them at Sylvan Heights Bird Park.  There is one group of flamingos with three species in it. Most of the pictures come from that group.  The American flamingos live in the Landing Zone, where you can get within touching distance of them, although separated from them by a fence. It is very hard to get pictures of them without a fence in the background or foreground so I kept just one picture of them.

(Note: click on a picture to see all larger.)

Most of these birds are Chilean flamingos - Bills gray with black tip and pink knees on gray legs and feet. Not sure what the bill bump meant

Think this is a juvenile chilean

More Chileans

Lesser flamingo in front

A Chilean

After I'd taken many pictures of single to multiple flamingos, I started seeing them as art.  I also loved that I could see different expressions in their faces.  I fought to isolate some compositions of them and then tried to fit them into frames as they contorted themselves.  I ended up with lots of pictures of parts of them.

Spotlighted flamingos

American flamingo in a moody moment

Loved those stern expressions - all they are missing is the pitchfork

Same expression with pitchfork

Trying to stuff as much of a flamingo as I can into this picture - may be a juvenile greater flamingo

What great tonality

The only way I could showcase their feet was to take just the feet on those rebar legs

That second guy was not following my stage directions

I think this is a young greater flamingo - love those rebar legs (can't find leg color in juveniles)

A lesser flamingo - see all the black in the bill? And it is more reddish 

Think this youngster is a juvenile Chilean

Flamingos are fascinating to me on many levels.  They are so strange and beautiful.  And was blown away when finding out that their knees are actually their ankles.  Their knees are hidden under their feathers.

And they feed more like  baleen whales and oysters then regular birds. They have horny plates in their beaks which let them strain food from the mud and water. And their bills are upside down and only the top bill is not attached to the skull so only it will move. So, they have to feed with their bills upside down so the top bill can do the dropping and moving.

This guys are filter feeders

Feeding  - they use their bills upside down

 American flamingos used to live in the Everglades,but they were extirpated 100 years ago.  Any flamingos seen in the wild today are believed to be escapees. But now they are reappearing in Central Florida, north of where they once were numerous. Check out that story here, then put it on your bucket list to  add them to your life American birds.

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