Date: 12/28/20 12:01 pm
From: \Shultz, Steven\ (via carolinabirds Mailing List) <carolinabirds...>
Subject: RE: Eastern NC 12/26-12/27
Thank you for the lovely responses!

11 people made very nice comments.

13 suggested they would rather read an impassioned plea from a Nigerian prince to help move $13,000,000 to the United States (and two said they were willing to do so).

4 suggested performing a contortion I do not believe is physically possible.

23 noted that buying a Honda would be a far better choice than a Toyota.

9 chastised me for burning fossil fuel to see birds, suggesting EV was the way to go. I explained that there were zero charging stations in Hyde County. Or Tyrrell. Or Washington.

1 did not understand why six Mountain Dew’s would jack up a 9 year-old.

2 pointed out grammatical mistakes.

…and one person stated they were from the IRS, that I was behind in my taxes, and that I needed to send a Wal-Mart gift card immediately in order to avoid incarceration.

***To all of you, I hope you had a wonderful Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Festivus, or Winter Solstice, and that 2021 is exceptional in every way. Let’s hope for lots of great birds, some fun chases, and hopefully the chance to get together with one another in the field or at a festival/meeting (maybe with the opportunity to actually see lips moving)***

In order to keep this post on the barest edge of legitimacy, I will relay that several folks saw that blasted Black-throated Gray Warbler this morning. Apparently, so long as you are not with me, you just have to show us and look 😊 Coordinates are here: 35.92757199929954, -75.72263210517877 (but please do not stand in the road)

I’m off to Wal-Mart…

Steve Shultz
Apex NC

From: Carol Gearhart <gearhace...>
Sent: Monday, December 28, 2020 1:09 PM
To: Shultz, Steven <Steven.Shultz...>
Subject: Re: Eastern NC 12/26-12/27

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We loved this! Very entertaining! Thanks for sharing.

On Mon, Dec 28, 2020 at 11:16 AM "Shultz, Steven" <carolinabirds...><mailto:<carolinabirds...>> wrote:
With the days of 2020 (mercifully) ticking away, there was one final chance to tick off enough “state year birds” to equal or, dare I dream, surpass, my personal “record”. And I was at risk of missing some really easy to get species for the year (see first sentence with the veiled reference to what a stinker the beginning of the “Roaring Twenties” has been). So we set off from the Peak of Good Living for the environs around Pungo Lake (Pocosin NWR) in Hyde County NC on Saturday.

Pungo can be a magical place. The lake serves as roosting area for tens of thousands of Tundra Swans and Snow Geese. Seeing that many white birds in the air or on the ground at the same time is a sight every North Carolinian should get to experience, and one of the major wildlife spectacles in the Mid-Atlantic.

OK Steve, so why doesn’t everyone line up like that 3-hour traffic jam at Festival of Lights? Well, for one, the roads at Pungo are somewhere between maddening and tear-your-hair-out. And the birds tend to be in one place. If that one place is a farmer’s field on the other side of the lake you can’t get to. Well, you are counting robins. But when things coalesce, it’s pretty amazing. So we figured we would give it a try.

We arrived around 3 p.m. with trusty Delorme in hand, marked up from previous trips since a) there are few signs marking the names of roads on the refuge, and b) roads tend to be randomly opened or closed from season to season, and c) there’s no cell reception to be able to use Google Maps (which can’t handle the craziness of these roads anyway). And don’t trust the maps at the info kiosk. They suggest roads are open that have never, in my experience, been open. At least in winter.

The roads were predictably awful after the Christmas Eve deluge. But since roads at Pungo follow a scale from Impassable to Horrible to Predictably Awful, that means they were not half bad. Meaning that half of the road was generally passable. This is where 4WD earns it’s keep. Sadly my economic plan for retirement is predicated on buying reliable cars and driving them until the wheels pop off, and 4WD adds a lot of potentially expensive to repair hardware, so I have a Camry (and a Mustang, but no way that’s going out there). No 4WD. Guys in jacked up trucks just shook their heads when they splashed by as I picked the old ‘Yota around puddles that might swallow hippos. But we made it to the spot where Sandhill Cranes roosted last year and Snows and swans often fly over. No cranes. No Snow Geese. The swans were fun to watch. Until they left.

Fortunately, the swans all seemed to be flying toward Pat’s Road fields. These are the fields north of the maintenance building that can be viewed from the eponymous, gasp, hard-topped Pat’s Road. Thousands of swans (we guessed 8,000) feed, honked, and bit as each other as folks parked alongside the road oohed and aahed like at a fireworks display. About 4:30 the sky darkened. Clouds. But clouds of Snow Geese. They just appeared overhead and settled into the same field alongside the swans. Probably about 10,000 of the little roto-tillers. But of course Snow Geese are as jumpy as a 9-year old with a 6-pack of Mountain Dew, so it took quite some time to get everyone settled in. This allowed us to scan the periphery of the flock and pick out several Ross’s Geese. So 2 species added to the list. Need 2 more to tie, three to win.

The next morning we started at Phelps Lake. This is usually good for our target Canvasback (see how bad 2020 was?? No cans in NC through 12/26??) and can be good for Common Merganser, expect they usually stay in the center of the lake, conveniently out of scope view. Without a breath of wind, the water was as glass, creating a weird optical illusion of birds floating above instead of on the water. But we found the mergs, about 80 of them, mostly hens but some drakes, conveniently feeding in flooded cypress stumps in good light. That never happens. No cans though. So still one species shy.

We had not planned on visiting the OBX, but it’s only a bit over an hour from Phelps, and that Black-throated Gray was being seen. Now I need to explain that I generally don’t chase rare birds since I have no luck. Zero. I can sit at a poker table and have a straight flush king high, and the young lady beside me has a royal flush. It just happens that way. But sometimes you gotta try. Bruce Young noted the bird was way the heck down from where it had been seen, so we start there. There are about 60 trees the bird could be in, and it moves. We hit all of them, collected some folks worked the area down by the water and explained the bird was being seen farther inland. THEY saw the bird. We did not. I hate birds.

So we move along to Pea Island. It was surreal. No wind. No mosquitoes. Warm. I was shedding outerwear. How often are you at the Banks and not a) frozen, b) picking sand out of your teeth weeks later, or c) applying to the blood bank for a withdrawal since you are a few pints low after feeding the skeeters?

Duck numbers on the refuge are way down from a few weeks ago, but still reasonably diverse. And of course it was actually pleasant to be out there! We spotted Black-crowned Night Heron, which tied the record, and Canvasback, which was +1.

The ocean was glass yesterday until about 2 p.m. This allowed watching the Humpback Whales feeding a couple miles out, as well as enjoying the mega-flock of gannets giving the what’s what to a hapless school of menhaden. My son, one of nine people who actually fish in the winter at Jennette’s Pier, pulled in Spiny Dogfish one after another (all went back to the sea, however they are quite tasty… if you’ve ever had fish and chips in the UK, you’ve quite likely dined on dogfish my friend. Ahem, I mean sure, it’s haddock! Really!)

We figured we would miss the Rough-legged Hawk once again at Alligator River (see note above about luck) and most certainly did not see it. Again. But a Merlin came in and perched in the tree that hawk typically uses, so we ended up with +2 for the year.

And no, I shall not reveal the final number. It’s embarrassing. But it’s mine, and I like it.

I hope that your 2021 is a mite bit better (OK, a hellava lot better) than the train wreck that was 2020. A lot of folks used their love of birds and the outdoors as a way to combat the turned-upside-down-world, and I have to suggest that this is a lot healthier than a bottle of bourbon (although I’d point you toward the Four Roses Single Barrel there). I’ve enjoyed reading about your exploits in the birding world this year, whether on Facebook, GroupMe, or Carolinabirds. I hope that each and every one of you has a tremendous 2021. Thank for keeping the #birdnerd community vibrant and cohesive the past year, and I hope to maybe see some of you in the field during ’21!

(If you are still reading… WOW. I’m impressed. That was long, rambled a lot, and did not even have the names of the birds in all caps for your scanning pleasure. Give yourself a pat on the back! Nice attention span!)

Steve Shultz
Apex NC


Carol E. Gearhart
5622 Balsom Rd.
Pfafftown NC 27040
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