Wintering Tundra Swans

Wintering Tundra Swans
Wintering Tundra Swans

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Getting Acquainted with Coastal North Carolina

One of the first things I planned to at my winter home was to go birding.  My boss took me on a tour of two of the refuges in our complex last Tuesday, then I went on a birding "walk" last Friday. We met at the Pea Island Visitor Center which will be my favorite place to work. It looks out over a large pond much loved by wintering tundra swans, white pelicans, and hopefully soon, ducks. But last Friday, the winds were blowing at 30 mph and the sand - this is on the outer islands and only yards from the sandiness of the beach - was sandblasting my skin off. So all of us just stayed inside and used our binoculars and the three scopes located in the left - in the picture - end of the building and watched the few brave birds that tried to fly as well as lots of them sitting or feeding on the water.

Pea Island NWR Visitor Center

For a complete list of the birds we saw there, click here

All of them were too far for pictures but I managed to collect a few more pictures last week.

A few of what will soon be thousands of tundra swans - this taken at Alligator River Refuge

A closer view of a tundra swan 

Tundra swans on a field the refuge is flooding 

Swans on one of the Pea Island ponds
 While on the bird walk. we saw a lot of great black-backed gulls and at least one lesser black-backed gulls and even one ring-billed gull, a much smaller bird. But they were all too far away to photograph. These gulls were playing in a puddle at a marina between the refuge and my house.  I also found the plover and killdeer there.

At least the middle gull is a greater black-backed gull, I think

 This may be a third winter lesser black-backed gull - help please

I think this is an American golden plover due to both it's eye-stripe and body shape

The upiquitous killdeer

I trained with another volunteer couple at Pea Island Visitor Center last Saturday but arrived early enough to do a little birding.  This time the wind was only about 19 mph and I spend a lot of time enjoying a group of about 30 pelicans tightly feeding. I even took several movies of the water ballet they were performing.

Pelican pack

I think all of these are sub-adults, born this year

There is a patch of scrub oak at the beginning of the trail.  When I stood on the boardwalk, and pished, about 20 yellow-romped warblers, AKA butterbutts, popped up

We have an osprey platform in front of the visitor center. The nest that was blown away in a
 storm and which has not been rebuilt, but this eagle spends a lot of time there. 

I also stopped at the Brodie Light house and got a little bit of sunset color in the clouds behind it but no birds.

Bodie Lighthouse - Click here for the history

I really wanted to find more incoming birds and, to that end, drove over 300 miles last Monday, and almost got stuck in the mud on a dirt road, and backed almost half a mile to avoid impassable mud. I finally starting seeing birds flying overhead at Pocosin Lakes NWR, but the road became impassible before I reached the lake. I passed another refuge in the dark on the way home. But we just had a big cold front come through, so I bet I'll soon be seeing lots more ducks. And we'll have 50,000 or more tundra swans scattered over four refuges. 

And soon after this comes out, I'll be on a paddle with my new paddle guru, another volunteer here. He was supposed to train me, but he mostly told me about all the paddling places around here and showed me his kayak and paddles.  I only have an open canoe, so may not be able to do a lot of his paddles but definitely can do some of them. Stay tuned. I'll also try to capture some of our black bears for you soon.  He called me to paddle today but I had to work.  He works tomorrow but will be off at 12:30. Can't wait. 

Happy Thanksgiving! Hope you take the challenge to get outdoors Thanksgiving day - but in the wild, not the shopping mall. 

And for a REALLY interesting blog about helping to band terns and pelicans, check out my fellow volunteer's blog. 

And check on the picture to link to other Wild Bird Blogs from around the world. 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

First Paddle in North Carolina; First New Friend

November 15, 2015

I was so excited about this experience,  I couldn't cull my pictures enough.  Get your coffee first. 

Besides getting to reconnect with many of my old friends, I got to turn a virtual friend into a real friend. I have been running into him in cyberspace for several years, since we both write blogs and both post our pictures on Flickr. He blogs about gardening and paddling and some of the stories of his paddles make me drool. I think he commented that we would have to meet while I was living close to him and I commented that I would love to do the paddle he blogged about.  He claims his job is Tree Hugging, Dirt Worshipping, and Second Guessing, so I knew he would be a kindred spirit. And he really works at the Norfolk Botanical Garden.

We agreed to meet at Merchants Millpond State Park, just south of the Virginia state line in northeast North Carolina.  I reserved a campsite for two days and drove up there from my stop to visit Laurel in South Carolina, getting there in time to enjoy the beautiful visitor center, and have some hammock time.

My camp

The next morning I got up and went to get a cup of coffee, then came back to start photographing.  I found I couldn't get into the parking lot, from where I had planned to do a little hiking, but there was lots of beauty to be found along the road. A few minutes later, a truck slowed down and the driver asked, Marilyn? I responded, Les?  Within a few minutes, he had parked his truck, grabbed his camera, and we were catching up, like old friends, while enjoying the marvelous light.

I came back from getting coffee down this road and saw this wonderful light..  The lake is visible across the road.

Sun's up

This road view made me anxious to get on the water

I couldn't stop photographing this scene

The dam

Just another dam picture

My favorite dam picture- it's almost an abstract

Putting In

Les looking almost as good as his reflection

This was the only heron we saw

Red maples added fall color
We saw very few birds. But there were some wood ducks screeching and lots of Canada geese calling.  They were all at the very back, where we couldn't paddle for the mix of duckweed, leaves, and parrot feather.

A mockingbird guarding his berries

I loved the Christmas look of the silvery Spanish moss and the red maple leaves

One of the canoe camps

Another doubly beautiful view

I loved the light coming through the Spanish moss

This tree looked like it had  had a hard life

Shelf fungi

I could look at the reflections on this dark tannic water forever

This scene was even more beautiful until a rogue breeze messed up the reflection

This man came in and out with us

We visited with him as we came off the pond and admired his spotted perch.
He cleans them and gives them to his old neighbors. 

Just another day in (a new) paradise.  Thanks Les for the wonderful trip.  And the first day at work, the volunteer who was SUPPOSED to train me was an avid paddler,  and taught me a lot more about where to go paddling then about how to run the Visitor Center.  Fortunately, the National Wildlife Refuges Visitor Center is only three years old and had the latest software to run the cash register.  So it's pretty blonde friendly.

I told him about this paddle and he said I might have been able to cross the street and put on on Bennett's Creek but recently there hasn't been enough water. Click here to find a description of the first leg of that stream.  And the park has built a big, interpretative visitor's center about a quarter of a mile north.  That is now the place you rent canoes. But you would still put in across from the little dam.  This area is probably the northernmost place to find the American alligator.  We did not see the resident gator on our paddle.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

My Winter Home: First Impressions

I arrived at my winter home last Monday. I'll be working at two refuges managed together, Pea Island NWR and Alligator River NWR.  Actually, I'll be mostly working at the Visitor Center in Mantaeo, NC and the one on the Pea Island NWR. I spent the weekend camping north of the refuges and paddling with a blogger friend. I had a problem finding the Visitor Center which serves serves several refuges along the North Carolina coast. That is because the street is actually their driveway and thus not recognized by my GPS. And asking for directions didn't work well either because I was asking for the refuge, not that visitor center.  And the two are several miles apart. So I spent some time casting about before I stumbled on signs to it.

There I met my new boss Tracy and several of the volunteers and staff. Tracy had me fill out some of my paperwork and gave me my work shirts - the light blue ones I've been coveting for years. The visitor center is only three years old and has beautiful displays of life along the Atlantic ocean and in the marches behind the dunes. I didn't take any pictures, so you'll have to wait to see pictures.  But soon I was following her to my bunkhouse. We drove back north  to South Nags Head and stopped at one of the beach houses - albeit one that had four or five houses between it and the ocean.  Then I found out THIS was the bunkhouse and I would usually be the only person here except for an intern that comes in on the weekends and for the RV volunteers that come to wash their clothes and use the Internet.  This is the nicest house  I've even lived in and I'm sure I'll enjoy living here.

There are views to the east, south, and west and also decks on all those sides.  I also have a screened-in room on the south side.  I can see the sun coming up over the Atlantic, with house shapes siluetted against it, and also see the sun set over Pimlico Sound.  The only drawback is that the basement, which houses two sets of washer/driers and is now storing my bike, is on the ground level.  Fourteen steps up is the door that goes into the hall leading to the 4 bedrooms, and two baths. Then it is another fifteen steps up to the open room that has the living, dining and kitchen areas.

I'm also in the smallest room I've ever tried to squeeze into and the kitchen also has a lot of wasted space. Between trying to find  places for what I bring in, before bringing in more, and needing to take lots of breaks from climbing stairs under burdens, I'm moving in very slowly.  But I do have all my big boxes out of the car and only need to pack up canned goods and bits and pieces. And I've ordered in some organizational tools - stacking bins, drawer dividers, and will soon get my current mess hidden.


I picked this bedroom because it has the most floor and wall space

The living area taken from the east side

And then turning to shoot down into the kitchen which has two big refrigerators

The view off my back deck

My ocean view - this probably was at 400 mm

My first sunset over Pimlico Sound and taken off my back deck

Tuesday I got up early and got the essential groceries, then quickly made breakfast.  My boss arrived at 9:00 A.M. to take me on a tour of both refuges. I got to see the Pea Island Visitor Center, and chat with a couple that also has spent a lot of time at Anahuac NWR which is where I began my volunteering career.  Pea Island also had National Parks land adjacent to our land and we actually have visitors use their restrooms.  The refuge overlooks a pond and there are three telescopes set up in the visitor center to look at the distant birds.  That morning the bird du jour was the American white pelican.  There were hundreds of them there along with a few other species, including double crested cormorants and a few ducks, too far away for me to identify.

Then we had to drive several more miles to get to Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge.  There we saw the fields were just starting to be flooded by the  pumps.  Tracy said that, the fall had been so wet, the farmers who grow corn in the summer and leave some behind for the swans, geese and ducks could not get the harvest in until just recently. I saw a pond full of tundra swans with a few mallards milling around among them. Otherwise, there were not many birds present.  But that should all change, culminating in the most birds here next January.

My first sunrise, taken from my side deck looking toward the Alantic Ocean

About a fourth of the tundra swans on the pond

I zoomed on the closest swans

Mallard ducks and swans

Today I'll work at the visitor center in Manteo all day, getting trained.  Then I'll be off on Thursday and Friday, before going down to train at the Pea Island Visitor Center. Friday I plan to go on a bird walk at Pea Island and then go to another site, supposed to be good for birds. I'll also have to go shopping for storage stuff to help me shoehorn into my room and the kitchen cabinets.  I'm going to be busy for several weeks just enjoying places on the Outer Banks. I looks like I'll be having a great winter.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Tavels with Laurel: Paddle on Bay Creek

One on my newer friends, Laurel, lives in South Carolina, so I made her house a stopover on my migration to my winter home in North Carolina. I spent three and a half days with her and got in a little paddling. 

She keeps her kayaks at Edisto Watersports and Tackle, which is on Bay Creek and about two blocks from her condo. Lindsey, one of the owners, is also her friend, and Laurel sometimes guides kayak trips for her.  Lindsey loaned me a kayak twice and assured me I can have one any time I show up. Lindsey wanted to paddle with us and Laurel invited several other friends to join us. We ended up with five women and one husband. We got on the water in mid afternoon. 

We did a short trip down the creek and into the sound, where we spent some time just hanging out and enjoying the dolphins and birds, and then paddled a short ways into Mud Creek before coming back. 

Loading up

Heading Out

My friend, the Super Duck and other new friends

Creek and the surrounding marsh

All sizes of boats use these waterways

Lindsey, owner of Edisto Watersports and Tackle and The Coffee Shop at Edisto Beach. and a wonderful person

Laughing gull (left) and herring gull (right)

One of a small pod of dolphins we spend a lot of time enjoying

The bay water are unusually dark from recent floods that put a lot of tannin into it.
The wash from the boat shows it well. 

Chilling and chatting

A long view of a few birds feeding the exposed mud flat at low tide

Coming out of the creek, Laurel looked like she was winning the race

And oystercatcher in its favorite habitat - Laurel also collected a few
 oysters to steam for supper

Besides helping to run Edisto Watersports and Tackle, Lindsey also has started a little coffee shop, The Coffee Shop at Edisto Beach.   The ambiance in there is wonderful and the view marvelous, with a bank of windows overlooking Bay Creek and the marsh on the other side.

The business also serves as a community center with artists offering classes in knitting and painting, and in things like live music in the evenings.  Laurel and I dropped in for the first half of Trivia Night when people come in teams to play. Laurel and I joined the Hokey Pokeys, a team of all guys, until we helped them upgrade.  We had to leave for another engagement, but had great fun.

When this blog comes out, I'll be preparing to paddle with a friend I only know through my blog and my Flickr account.  I'll tell you all about it soon. And the following day, I'll be reporting to Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. So I'll soon have a lot to tell. And if you know the area around Coastal North Carolina, please advise me of places I need to see and things I need to do.  I've been so busy having adventures,  I haven't had time to find out about new ones.