Week Ending March 9, 2014

With the return of warm weather throughout the week, I set out for First Landing State Park on Saturday morning to kick off my hiking. I got a later start than usual since it was cloudy early on, and got down to park towards late morning. I realized right away why this is not the best time to be there, as I encountered tons of people out on the trails. I parked outside the 64th Street entrance and walked in like usual, taking the Cape Henry Trail south and west around Lake Susan Constant. The water was extremely high in the lake as we had just had a nasty Nor’easter pummel its way through the region on Thursday night & Friday. We got a lot of rain from the storm so basically all the lower lying areas in the park were inundated with water. The water was actually so high in the lake that the partially submerged tree that the cormorants always sit on was completely submerged for the first time. With the high amounts of ponded areas, I saw my first Spotted Turtles of the season, one along the Long Creek Trail near the eastern junction with the Osprey Trail, and another at the very far west end of the Long Creek Trail.

Golden-crowned Kinglet along the Osprey Trail at First Landing State Park.

On the Osprey Trail I photographed a Golden-crowned Kinglet, which stayed still just long enough to get two photographs of it. These tiny birds are extremely hyperactive and I really haven’t photographed them much in the past because of it. When I reached the waterfront of Broad Bay, there was a Turkey Vulture & a Herring Gull feeding off the corpse of a large fish (presumably a Red Drum) that had washed ashore. I later found another one further down the shoreline, and I’m guessing the Nor’easter might have had something to do with the fish kills. Along the bay, I saw a large adult Bald Eagle cruise across, but didn’t see much else. The weather was gorgeous, sunny skies and right around 60 degrees, but the birds seemed to not be very active today, maybe it was the large number of people out on the trails. I saw the typical songbirds, and waterfowl throughout the hike, catching a Hermit Thrush on the way back was probably the rarest of my sightings today. Having walked all the way to the west end of the park (4.5 miles each direction), I would have thought I’d see more but at least it was a beautiful day.

Field Sparrow along the loop road at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Sunday, the same weather conditions stuck around and it looked as though it might be a rainy day when I first woke up around 8. But after an hour or so the skies cleared so I packed up my stuff and went down to Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Last night we turned the clocks forward in observance with the beginning of daylight savings time, so from here on out I can actually do things outdoors after my work day and don’t need to live in darkness during the weekdays anymore. I got to Back Bay around 10:30 AM, so I was expecting to see a crowd, but fortunately, there was only a couple of cars there. The water in the bay was at an all time low level from my memory. When we get these strong Nor’easters along the coast, the northeasterly winds they produce push the surface water in the bay south towards Pamlico Sound. Since the winds are sustained over a period of a day or two, the water takes a while to rebound and the bay ends up becoming very shallow along the northern portion. The same effect happens to the Chesapeake Bay during these storms, which is why our area (on the south side of the bay) gets inundated by tidal flooding. It’s neat to see the opposite effects on Back Bay & Chesapeake Bay since they are so close to one another here. Since the bay was so low, all the waterfowl were very far out in the still deep sections. I could see a large number of Tundra Swans, Gadwall, Canada Geese, and American Wigeons way out but the photographs were out of range.

My first Iceland Gull sitting just offshore at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge!

I started out along the bay boardwalks but didn’t do the Bay Trail since a pair of people had just started out on it and I didn’t want to be right behind/in front of them since the trail is short. I figured they’d scare everything off anyway. So I did the loop road, between the visitor center & the dike trail gates first. Nothing much to see along the trail outside of 3 Wilson’s Snipes that I saw fly over the marsh quite a ways out. Coming back northward on the loop road I found the Field Sparrows in the same spot I’ve seen them the past few visits, and they were joined by a Northern Mockingbird and some Carolina Chickadees. I reached the Dune Trail and took it east towards the ocean. The high winds really did a number on the trail, having moved a mass amount of sand and actually filled in the cut through the final dune to the beach. This is the first time I’ve seen this big of a shift at the park, usually the cut is about 10 feet wide and a few feet high, but now the dunes are leveled off and you have to climb up and over it. On the beach right off the bat I could see a large flock of seabirds off to the south. I started walking in that direction and noticed that someone on a bike was heading back towards me so I waited to see if they’d scare all the birds off…and of course they did so I turned around. However, I got to thinking that maybe I’d see something neat in the flock so I again turned back towards them. This time I got around them without scaring too many away and now lined up south of them, I could actually take photos without the sunlight ruining them. While I was standing there taking photos of the Lesser Black-backed / Ring-billed / Herring / Great Black-backed Gulls I saw an all white one fly in over my head and land on the water close to shore. I thought at first it was a Glaucous Gull since I’d recently see one at Rudee Inlet and knew them to be all white. It wasn’t until I got home and reviewed the photos, and sent them off for confirmation that I found out it was an Iceland Gull (Kumlien’s race).

Lesser Black-backed Gull sits in front of the large flock of gulls along the beach.

This was the first time I’d ever seen one of these, and so far it hasn’t been re-sighted by anyone on eBird.com. With those photos, and a lot more of the other gulls, I’m very glad that I changed my mind and turned back around to see the flock. Having taken plenty of shots, and adding more of some Double-crested Cormorants and Brown Pelicans, I walked back north towards where the Seaside Trails comes down to the beach. On the way, I had one Northern Gannet come very close to shore, and got some photos. The other gannets I saw were all very far out, like they usually are, so having one fly in close was awesome. I saw some Surf Scoters and Red-breasted Mergansers through my binoculars, but too far out for my camera lens. I headed back over top of the dunes on the Seaside Trail and walked the Bay Trail since I’d missed out on it earlier in the day. I didn’t find much on the way out, just some Yellow-rumped Warblers that always seem to know which side of the sunlight to stand on, making it impossible to photograph them. Also saw some White-throated Sparrows again like last visit. On my way back down the trail, I scared off a hawk that I’m guessing was a Sharp-shinned as it was small, I just didn’t get a good look at it. It was perched just off the trail and I was paying attention to a Yellow-rump when it took to the air and disappeared rather quickly. I finished up my hike along the boardwalks & the Kuralt Trail, but didn’t photograph anything more, outside of a Northern Mockingbird that stayed out in the sunlight for me. 

This Northern Gannet flew in close enough to shore for me to finally get a clear shot of one!