Day 3

Today we started by trying for Swainson’s Warbler and then birded the coast a bit. We were at McDonald’s at 6, although they didn’t get around to opening the door for another couple minutes and had no one to work the counter. Eventually the help arrived, although without her reading glasses. Don loaned her his pair and we were able to get breakfast. She handed them back and proceeded to make other customers wait, even as Don offered them back.

We went to several spots at Alligator River NWRfor the warbler (Milltail Road and others), all without any sign. Overall it was pretty quiet, with lots of Prothonotaries and what I think were Mantled Baskettails (dragonflies) and not much else. We eventually hit on the idea of calling the refuge headquarters and asking about access and for any recent sightings. They weren’t able to help with any sightings, but did call us back to say that the “Superspot” that had been closed for the last few years was now open. We quickly worked our way over, but still had no sign of Swainson’s. Acadian Flycatcher was nice and there were Pileated Woodpeckers everywhere, but otherwise it wasn’t too exciting.

It was close to noon now, so we started to head towards the coast and find lunch. On the way out, we had one of the big surprises of the trip with an Alligator in the marsh. We ignored the no stopping signs and watched and photographed for a few minutes.


We headed towards the coast and found lunch at Sam & Omie’s in Nags Head. It was fairly empty when we walked in, but was full shortly after. One of the specials was fried Spot. The waitress described it as a whitefish, so Don and I tried it. Nancy had steamers and Lynn had crab. They failed to tell us that preparation consisted almost entirely of cutting the head off and throwing it in the fryer. Don called for help and the owner came over and explained how to eat it: work from the back and the fins and tail were like potato chips. I found it to be pretty good once I learned how to avoid the bones, Don seemed to be a bit turned off. Lynn and Nancy both found their food very good.

After lunch, we headed down the Outer Banks. Our first stop was at Bodie Light, where we had the big surprise of the trip. There was one person on the platform as we walked up. He immediately turned to us and said “I’ve been staring at this bird for an hour and I’m almost convinced that it’s a Curlew Sandpiper.” We all jumped and got on the bird in question. It was rather distant and we only had 2 scopes between us, but we all got acceptable views. The bird still appeared to be in basic plumage. It was limping slightly, which proved useful in refinding it. We watched for probably close to an hour, during which it lifted its wings a couple times and flew twice. Somehow, we all lost it as it flew. After the first time it flew, I found a limping bird fairly quickly but the second time it disappeared. Overall similar to the Dunlin, but a bit slimmer, longer, and with a longer bill. Of course we had no references, but Nancy thumbed through The Shorebird Guide in the gift shop and found a similar picture. At home, I dug through several books and will say it looks like the first-winter bird on page 115 of the Facts on File guide. Even though we lost the bird in flight, we were all but convinced that the rump was pure white. There was no sign of any other color when it lifted its wings, although the angle wasn’t straight on. I did attempt a few pictures, but they were way too distant to be any good.

Curlew Sandpiper with foot raised

There were plenty of other good birds around including many Dunlin, a Whimbrel, several Glossy Ibis, flyover Royal Terns and many herons and egrets.

Eventually, we moved on. The guy who found the bird was waiting for some friends he had called in, although we would later find that they didn’t relocate the bird. We moved on to the boat ramp and heard several Clapper Rails but were unable to see them.

The next stop was Pea Island NWR. The heat was pretty bad at this point, but we walked out most of the boardwalk anyway. I found a Spotted Sandpiper while people were in the gift shop. Out on the boardwalk, we had many Seaside Sparrows, a good number of sandpipers, many more herons, egrets, ibis, and some coots. There were a few terns around and we had good looks at a perched Gull-billed and Forster’s. Also all along the edge were many Rambur’s Forktails (damselflies).

The turtles at the start of the walk were big to gigantic:


And this towhee was incredibly cooperative:



We took a drive through downtown Manteo before dinner and then ended up at the Country Kitchen just down the road from the hotel. It looked like a dump, but the food was very good and extremely cheap. A few locals started talking to us and had lots of things to say about the area.

After dinner, we took a quick ride to the Black Rail spot, which was now posted No Trespassing. A short distance down the road was a parking lot, so we took a quick walk out and found we could get out into the marsh in theory, but it was a long, buggy walk. We returned to the hotel and ran into Ken. Luckily for him, he had a nice close, breeding plumaged Curlew Sandpiper up in Cape May and some decent seabirds on his first trip.