Over the last week, temperatures got extremely cold for an extended period of time. The eastern half of the state also got hit with a storm. Between the snow and the freezing cold, the birds were struggling to survive and did whatever they had to. In the case of the American Woodcock, it meant shedding some of their shyness and coming out into the open, in numbers, to forage for whatever they could find.
On January 4th and 5th, some chatter about Woodcock started up on the carolinabirds listserve, and then all day on Saturday the 6th, there was talk about the Woodcock coming out into the open, sometimes in groups, on the sides of the roads, and in people’s yards. One lady had 22 of them in her yard at once! Woodcock are typically very hard to find, and when you do, it is usually just a glimpse as they flush and fly away from you quickly. By the end of the day on Saturday, the allure of seeing them just sitting out in the open got too great for me, and I decided this would be a great life bird for me to chase.
I figured that although there were some locations that were a little closer, I might as well go all the way to the Outer Banks since I stand a good chance of getting other life birds besides the Woodcock there. On Sunday, I made a turkey and had a great early family dinner before jumping in the car and driving off to the Outer Banks. I spent the night in a cheap hotel in Kill Devil Hills and woke up very early on Monday. I had been warned by several folks that the Woodcock would disappear as quickly as they had shown themselves, and the freezing temperatures were supposed to end that day. Maybe I over did it, since I arrived at Bodie Island in the dark, and couldn’t see a thing. I drove slowly down the wooded road, trying to peer into the darkness, until the sun started to rise.
You can see all the snow and ice on the ground, something I’ve never seen at the Outer Banks in my few trips there. I still wasn’t seeing birds. so I took a short walk down a trail at the end of the loop.
There was still not much to see from a bird perspective, and I was starting to get nervous that they wouldn’t come out this morning. Finally, I decided to drive up and down the wooded road again, since the day before woodcock had been reported along its edge. I didn’t get past the first turn before I was rewarded with this.
Success! I sat in the car and took photos for twenty minutes. He seemed to not be bothered with me, and later in the day there were up to five of them sitting in that same spot, seeming like tame birds, and allowing the cars to get very near. It was great to watch these somewhat weird-looking birds at close range.
After that, I met a friendly birder by the lookout into the water, where a large number of waterfowl congregated in holes in the ice. I drive to Pea Island to see more of this, with hundreds of birds sitting in the small unfrozen puddles in the middle of large bodies of water.
Hoping to get a Marsh Wren (a bird I have missed seeing on many trips, despite it not being very uncommon), I went back to Bodie Island and met another group of birders, looking at the woodcock. I struck out on the Marsh Wren, but they were nice enough to lead me over to Oregon Inlet, where I got great looks at a roost of a group of Black-crowned Night Herons.
They were just sitting in the trees off the main parking lot. Not something you see every day!
Afterwards, I stopped at Jeannette’s Pier to see what goodies it might hold. There were not a lot of birds there, but the few that were there were all interesting to see.
The Common Eider, largest duck in the Northern Hemisphere, was not a life bird for me, but I had only seen one before, in the exact same location. Last time it was a female, but this time I got to see a male. This was a great bird to see for the year, but there were also two lifers here for me!
I initially thought this was a female, but after noticing the white on the back and consulting documentation, I realized it was a first year male. A surprise bird as there had not been reports of it before that day.
Greater Scaup are not particularly rare, but they are less common than Lesser Scaup and while it is possible I have seen Greater before, I had never been sure enough to definitively put them into ebird. I verified these with some more knowledgeable folk and am relatively certain these are the greater variety, so I got another life bird.
After cataloging everything else I could find, I headed out. It had been a whirlwind trip, driving out to OBX and back in roughly 30 hours, but it was well worth it. I met some nice people, saw some great birds, and got a bunch of good memories, in exchange for some driving.