My Montana

My Montana
My Montana

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Pea Island and Its Winter Residents

I run two visitor centers here for most of my volunteer hours.  The biggest and most interesting interior is at the one we call the Gateway Visitor Center which is one of the many attractions at Manteo, on Roanoke Island,  North Carolina. It represents several eastern North Carolina national wildlife refuges that are also managed from the the same building.

But the one that is the most fun to work in is the Pea Island NWR Visitor Center.  It is on the outer banks, so gets lot of visitors and overlooks North Pond, which is about a mile and a half long and a half mile wide.  On my first visit, the waters were fairly empty, but they are getting fuller and getting more diverse birds as we are FINALLY getting a little cool weather. (But still seldom even jacket weather.) This pond has a path that goes around it  on three sides, before crossing the dunes to the Atlantic Ocean and then coming back across the road to the Visitor Center.  It also has three very good telescopes so visitors can hang out in the windowed front and enjoy birds without any effort.

And even the twelve mile trip from my house to the center is beautiful and interesting, and sometimes a little scary, if the winds are high and are filling the highway with sand. Highway 12 runs down the Outer Banks, a series of narrow islands off the eastern North Carolina coasts. The islands are moving west, or inland as the sand on the east side is carried to the back side, and a lot of it drops on the highway.  Sometimes big storms bring too much sand and close the road.  It can also flood.

View of Highway 12  almost to the refuge

These monsters keep moving the sand back to the ocean side - there were 7 of them working in a
5 mile stretch when the winds were blowing at 30mph

Most of our early migrants are tundra swans.  They will continue to come into the refuge over the next couple of months and will peak in the thousands.  And at one our sister refuges, they will number around 50,000.

One of my early pictures of swans

Tundra Swans and Mallards - this from the Alligator River Refuge on my first tour of both refuges

This "tunnel" is on the beginning of the walkway - the next two pictures
were taken immediately from the end on different days

A swan family - taken from the viewing area last Saturday before work

Part of a flock of thirty white pelicans feeding on North Pond just after sunrise 

Swans and ducks on South Pond, a few miles further south 

Lesser scaup, just coming out of eclipse plumage

A northern mocking bird - one of a pair that hang out near the visitor center

The next pictures were taken at a puddle at a Marina just off the refuge.  We have the same gulls, but they hang out too far away for decent pictures. 

Greater black-backed gulls - except for lessor at far right

Lesser black-backed gull

A funny looking black-bellied plover - after I decided to check it out, it turned into a golden plover 

And, as everywhere else,  there are killdeers

We have lots of the ubiquitous yellow-rumped warblers of the Myrtle subspecies

Of course, where there are ducks, and fish, there are eagles, osprey, and harriers.  I have seen all three on the refuge.  But this eagle was the only one I could catch on camera. He is sitting on the osprey platform directly outside the viewing windows of the visitor center.  That nest on that platform was destroyed by one of the hurricanes from last summer. Last weekend, a visitor came in to excitedly report that a pair of eagles - one adult and one immature - had put up several thousands of ducks off of South Pond. I'm looking forward to catching that sight for myself.

Bald eagle

Here we don't have great-tailed grackles and have the bright yellow-eyed version of the boat-tailed grackles. 

And for a little lagniappe, I get to see this lighthouse and a marina full of big fishing boats along my drive to and from work.  

Bodie Lighthouse in the sunset glow

This Friday I get to go to the Wings Over Water Encore on a trip to the closed portion of Pea Island Refuge with REAL Birders.  They let us volunteers go on trips that don't fill all the way up.  The Encore has happened because some other local event was happening in early November. So the festival planners decided to move it to October and do an encore in early December.  I think our birds are migrating later, so this will give more birds. Stay tuned.

And for more (and probably more exciting) blogs on wild birds, click on the picture.