Day 1 (May 23) started with a 6 AM trip to the airport. A Downy Woodpecker in the yard, a Red-tail on 128, and gulls and cormorants on the Pike got things going. After being dropped off, I waited for the outside check-in, although the line was probably a lot longer than the one inside was inside. Still didn’t take much time to get through there and through security.
Waiting for the plane, I went back and forth between the TV and people watching. One guy stuck out as looking somewhat like a birder, but I remembered Don as having a thick mustache. Apparently he had shaved, as he eventually came over and picked me as the other birder pretty easily.
We chatted for a few minutes about equipment and what we wanted to see. The call to board came fairly soon and we started for the plane. Between getting out tickets checked and reaching the plane (which was outside), someone called out to Don. It turned out to be Ken, whom he had met on an Attu cruise. Ken was from California, but had flown in to Boston to try for Sharp-tailed Sparrows, Purple Sandpiper (successful), and Bicknell’s Thrush. He was flying down to Norfolk, running up to Cape May for Curlew Sandpiper, and then taking 10(!) days of boat trips, so we would see him again later.
The flight was very easy. Once it was obvious that the plane was barely half-full, I got a row to myself. No luck finding oystercatchers as we took off. We landed early and quickly made our way down to the baggage claim.
In record time, we not only had our bags, but Lynn and Nancy both arrived. I think we had everyone together and ready to go to the car rental within 15 minutes of getting off the plane.
The car rental took a few minutes, but soon we were on the road. We made a quick stop at the local Subway, grabbed a few bottles of water, picked up our first Laughing Gull, and were off.
We made it into North Carolina with only one wrong turn (which we would make on the way back as well). We took a short rest stop at the Roanoke/Cashie River Center, where we immediately had a first year male Orchard Oriole, which turned out to be the only oriole of the trip. We soon continued on and somewhere along the way I got a Black Vulture that no one else was able to get on at 70 MPH.
Eventually, we reached the VOA site to scout for Henslow’s Sparrow. Don and I both thought we heard one once or twice but couldn’t be sure. We definitely heard Summer Tanager and saw a few Eastern Meadowlarks. The site itself is quite interesting, a giant open field with a bunch of radio towers (short-wave apparently) half a mile or more out in the middle. I also picked up a life dragonfly here with a distant Carolina Saddlebags (Tramea lacerata) and there were a few butterflies as well.
After a few minutes here, we moved on and eventually reached our hotel in New Bern, where we had a few minutes to relax. But not too long as we headed out to bird the Croatan National Forest (pronounced Cro-a-tan as we eventually found out, although Croe-tin and Cow-tan were in the running) and had a quick meal at Wendy’s.
There were a few farms on the road into the Croatan. Hiding among the horses at one was a number of Cattle Egrets.
We arrived at the Croatan and began looking for Red-cockaded Woodpecker. The first spot didn’t have any, even with a good bit of trying, although a Common Nighthawk circling and landing and a flyby Pileated were both very good.
We moved on to a second location and fairly quickly heard something that sounded like it could be one. After bushwhacking a good distance, I spotted a single bird way off. Fortunately it flew in much closer and sat around long enough for everyone to get excellent views with the scope. A second bird soon flew in and also gave good looks. Both birds eventually went into their own holes and didn’t come back out, so they must have gone in for the night.
Happy with that success, we continued down the road a bit, mostly to get further down so we’d have more room to hopefully have a Chuck-will’s-widow on the ground. Several had started calling, and at our next stop several Bachman’s Sparrows were singing as well, although it was too dark to see them. Unfortunately on the drive out, a car zoomed past us, which pretty much eliminated any chance of there being any nightjars on the road.
Total for the day was about 47 species.