Monday, having just gotten home from the trip to Chincoteague the night before, Ruth & I went down to Sandbridge to enjoy our Memorial Day off of work. Often, I'll drop her off at the beach, and then go for a hike at Back Bay, then meet back up and get myself into the ocean for an hour or so to cool down. It was an extremely hot day, in the 80s, which is about as high as I can take it, being that I'm from the Midwest, and not Southern born-and-raised. We got stuck in traffic heading down the main road of Sandbridge and it took about 30-40 minutes to finally reach Little Island Park, where the road opens up to two lanes & we could get past the jam. Ruth hopped out of the car with her beach stuff, and I continued on into Back Bay NWR to hike. Like I've been doing the last few outings, I walked the West Dike Trail down to the False Cape SP sign & back. As with recent hikes, the Red-winged Blackbirds were out all across the marsh and making quite a raucous. I found a female Boat-tailed Grackle about a mile in that gave me some nice photo opportunities. Nearby, at the first wooded edge, where a Blue Grosbeak had slipped me a couple weeks back, I found a male Orchard Oriole. This is about 4 times in a row out here now that I've found one, though this is the first time that it has been in a spot not right before the maritime forest section of the trail. I noticed that there was no longer any splashing occurring along the trail in the bay water's.
The spawning must now be done for the Longnose Gar. However, the Redear Sunfish appear to now be on their own spawning beds in the shallow waters of the freshwater impoundments. They lay their eggs in the summer/spring in rounded out areas in the sandy shallows that they have created with their tails and bodies. It's like a bird's nest, but for fish instead. They were so shallow in several places that I was able to photograph the males sitting right above the nests protecting them from other predators. I hadn't imagined that I'd be able to photograph fish with my equipment, but it seems to keep happening lately! When I got to my first water stop, at the maritime forest, I located a Ruby-throated Hummingbird as it zoomed by and perched briefly on the tip of a large tree branch about 20 feet above the ground. I took some shots, but these tiny birds (only about 3.25 inches in length), in a shadowy spot, never turn out very well. After, walking through the forest, I got to see some Carolina Chickadees and what turned into a pair of Great Crested Flycatchers, my first in Back Bay NWR (for those keeping track, namely myself). On the way out of the forest, I was passed by the tram coming back from False Cape SP, and was told by the driver that there was a whole lot of Glossy Ibis on the marsh to the immediate left after the forest. I was glad this gentleman told me about it, as I'd never have noticed them since they were so far away, and far back at a bad angle from this direction. There appeared to be some Great & Snowy Egrets also, but after reviewing the photographs, I'm not sure if they were Snowies or just young Great Egrets. I've never had to tell the difference before.
From this point, I turned back, and after a quiet walk back through the maritime forest, I encountered (what I'm guessing) was the same Ruby-throated Hummingbird on the other side of the forest. This one, kept flying from tree to tree in the same area that I helped the Chain Pickerel out weeks ago. It is crazy to think about to this day, but saving that fish's life has seemingly brought every bird in the park to this spot. I got some photos as this Hummer buzzed from Honeysuckle to Honeysuckle on all the trees. From that high point, walking back I didn't see a whole lot, even after the 2 miles of walking. One thing that did stick out was seeing a Largemouth Bass about 12-15 inches long swimming in the shallows of one of the impoundments. These fish are clearly either spawning or hunting for other spawning fish's eggs (like the sunfish I saw earlier). Further along the West Dike Trail, I finally saw my first shorebird, a Spotted Sandpiper who kept walking very near shore in camera view. From that point forward though, I didn't see a whole lot, and went straight to the car, due to the hot weather, so that I could get to Little Island and spend some time on the beach. While on the beach, rather in the water for about an hour, I felt great, but when I came out of the water, for some reason my right ankle started to give out on me everytime I put pressure on it. I'm not sure what happened since it felt fine before I went in the water, but perhaps all the getting knocked around in the surf finally got to me?
Throughout the week, my ankle had still bothered me. I was worried about having to go to Minnesota in a couple weeks, so I didn't push it, I stayed off it all week hoping it would get better. Thursday night I went and finally got a new pair of shoes in the hopes that they would help my ankle out. Part of why I think it started to hurt is having worn out my old pair a long time ago, but just not replacing them. On Friday, Ruth & I headed down to Fayetteville, North Carolina where her friend Amy was having a baby shower the following day. Since we were down there, and the party didn't begin til 2 PM, I went out hiking early Saturday morning, just to try out the new shoes and see how my ankle did with them. I went to Raven Rock State Park, which was just a half hour from where we were staying, and is a park that I visited last year in July just before her friend Candace's birthday party. The shoes seemed a good fit, and I did have some soreness still, but decided to only walk 5 miles or a bit less maybe, hoping not to push it too far. It actually sprinkled on me at first, but then got very clear, and very nice with temps probably in the 60s or early 70s. I walked the Raven Rock Trail & Little Creek Trail this time, whereas I did the trails at the west end of the park last year (on an awful 90 degree day that truly drained me over the few miles). It took awhile before I started to see many animals, having seen just a few Brown Thrashers early on.
On the Raven Rock Trail, I ended up going down a number of steps to the Cape Fear River and realizing it was a dead end trail spur meant only to give a view of the water. When I went back up, I gave my ankle a good test, having to put all my weight on it going vertically up a hundred or more stairs. But, it still did OK. Shortly thereafter, I heard a bird chirping in a tree and stopped to look around. I looked for a couple minutes high up and then lower down in the trees, before I realized it was only about 10 feet, directly in front of me on a low branch. I was surprised to find that it was actually a Prothonotary Warbler, in all it's beautiful plump, yellow glory. I have been seeing these everywhere I go lately after having finally gotten to see a number of them at the Great Dismal Swamp this spring. This one caught me off guard though since it's voice sounded different than the ones I've seen in marshy areas, and this area is more of sandstone cliffs & creek valleys of the piedmont, not the coastal plain. I thought for a moment that it might be a Blue-winged Warbler, which look very similar to Prothonotary Warblers, but they have a black stripe between the eye & bill, which this one lacked. This sighting occurred near the end of the Raven Rock Trail, and just after I got onto the Little Creek Trail. While walking this trail I found an Eastern Box Turtle that was crawling across a sandy spot on the trail. I was taking photos of this turtle when I heard chirping that sounded close to me. I look just off trail, in the direction of a small freshwater stream, and noticed a little yellow bird hopping around.
When I was finally able to get my lens on it (the auto focus is just getting worse and worse), I wasn't sure what it was, other than that it was a wood warbler of some sort. It had a yellow face, with a slight black ring around the head. I couldn't recall from memory just what type of bird this one was, and after a solid 10 minutes of trying to get a good shot of it, I continued on along the trail. I walked to the end of the trail, and slightly beyond since nothing was marked well, then came back again. On the way back I heard another warbler calling and upon looking around, a bright yellow and black bird came flying in close to me. This bird I recognized right away as a Hooded Warbler male. It hopped around and then flew towards me even closer and chased off what I believe to be the very same bird that I was trying to ID before. Now, the ID was made simple for me, and the original bird was a female Hooded Warbler. This time of year the wood warblers chase each other around as a mating ritual. I saw it a lot a few weeks ago in the Dismal Swamp with the Prothonotary Warblers, and it was neat to see again here in North Carolina. I took a large number of photographs but most were pretty bad with these birds moving around incessantly, and being deep in the forest, with little light coming through. Also while watching the warblers, a Black-and-White Warbler male perched on a tree nearby and I got a couple fuzzy shots of it. This is the second of the species I've seen this year, having seen the first (a female) in very early April at First Landing. It's been a great spring for Warblers, which was a big goal of mine, to photograph these tiny, colorful, and extremely quick birds; definitely my best year so far attempting to document them. Most species are just migrating through the area, heading towards the northern forests, but a few species do spend their entire summer in our area...more on this topic shortly.
After all the commotion of the warblers, I'd forgotten about the poor Box Turtle. When I'd gotten back up to it, it was already gone, and Box Turtles don't move very fast, so I'd estimate I spent at least an hour walking around and taking warbler photos. Even after looking for the turtle, I still saw more of the Hooded Warblers, and tried my damndest to get good shots, but still failed due to their seemingly ADD personalities. After, I walked a bit more, I ended up very close to the parking area, where I saw a group of folks and one ranger standing still on the trail. I stopped, thinking the ranger might be pointing something out to the others, and this time I was right. There was a Summer Tanager sitting atop a dead tree very close to the group of people. I took a couple long-distance (50 yard or so) shots, and got one good enough to ID. From there to the parking lot I didn't have any more surprises, the ankle held up OK, just some minor pain, and I got back before it got too hot, and also well before Amy's party was going to start, so had plenty of time to get back, shower, and make it there. The baby shower was set for 2 PM, and after a ride with Ruth's friend Tinya's parents, I got there just in time. I had a great time at the shower, but I mention this in my wildlife blog for one particular reason. About 9 PM, after the sun had gone down, and the remaining folks had crowded around the fire pit, we started hearing loud bird calls from the forest around us. The bird that was calling, was very obviously, due to its call, a Whip-Poor-Will, as it kept calling it's name, and very loud! I've never seen or heard one of these before, so hearing one was awesome! Also, as the sun had dropped, Amy's folks' house eventually became enshrouded by Green Treefrogs, which was one of the neater things I've ever seen!
On Friday afternoon, I will be leaving Virginia Beach, and heading for Munster, Indiana & Ely, Minnesota on a 16 day vacation from work. I hope to catch a lot of the species (Wood Warblers especially) that I didn't see during their migration through the south in these forests where they have decided to nest. Last summer, I did the same thing, and I got to add several life species to my life list like the Magnolia Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Black-throated-Green Warbler, and Nashville Warbler (one that I'd seen in Ely before, but never photographed). I'm looking very forward to being away and hopefully getting a chance to see more birds to add to my life list, and getting to fish on the lakes that I used to fish with my father. It'll be great to see my family in both spots as well, as my mother just finished up her final year as an elementary school teacher & I will get to see her and celebrate the start of her retirement! I can't wait, but unfortunately my next blog entry will probably be several weeks away, so for anyone out there who follows this blog, please bear with me throughout June & I will have a lot more photos (hopefully) to post when I get back into town on June 22!